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THE POLITICAL WRITINGS 


“Selected Aphorisms" and Other Texts 


Translated and Annotated by 


CHARLES E. BUTTERWORTH 





Agora Editions 
Editor: Thomas L. Pangle 
Founding Editor: Allan Bloom 


Alfarabi, The Political Writings: "Selected Aphorisms" and Other Texts. 

Translated and annotated by Charles E. Butterworth 
Bolotin, David. Plato's Dialogue on Friendship: An Interpretation of the 
"Li/sis," with a New Translation. 

Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the 
"Phenomenology of Spirit." Assembled by Raymond Queneau. 

Edited by Allan Bloom. Translated by James H. Nichols Jr. 

Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook. Edited by Ralph Lerner and 
Muhsin Mahdi. 

Plato. Gorgias. Translated by James H. Nichols Jr. 

Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by James H. Nichols Jr. 

Plato. Gorgias and Phaedrus. Translated by James H. Nichols Jr. 

The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues. Edited by 
Thomas L. Pangle. 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. D'Alembert on the 
Theatre. Translated by Allan Bloom. 



ALFARABI 

The Political 
Writings 

SELECTED APHORISMS and Other Texts 


TRANSLATED AND ANNOTATED BY 

Charles E. Butterworth 


Cornell University Press 

ITHACA AND LONDON 


2-0O\ 



Copyright © 2001 by Cornell University 


All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this 
book, or parts thereof, must not be reproduced in any form without 
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First published 2001 by Cornell University Press 
Printed in the United States of America 


LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA 

Farabi. 

[Selections. English. 2001] 

Alfarabi, the political writings : Selected Aphorisms and other 
texts / translated and annotated by Charles E. Butterworth. 
p. cm.— (Agora editions) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-8014-3857-8 (alk.) 

1. Philosophy, Islamic—Early works to 1800. I. Butterworth, Charles E. II. Title. 
III. Agora editions (Cornell University Press) 

B753.F32 E5 2001 

181’.6—dc21 00-012887 


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For 

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and Thomas Dutch, 
with gratitude for their faith in 
the promise of education 




Contents 


Preface 

ix 

Selected Aphorisms 
1 

Enumeration of the Sciences 
69 

Book of Religion 

85 

The Harmonization of the Two Opinions of the Two Sages: 
Plato the Divine and Aristotle 

Glossary 

169 

Index 

177 




Preface 


Widely referred to as "the second teacher," that is, second after Aristotle, 
Abu Nasr Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Tarkhan Ibn Awzalagh al- 
Farabl (Alfarabi) is generally heralded as having founded political phi¬ 
losophy within the Islamic cultural tradition. Born in about 870/256 1 in 
the village of Farab in Turkestan, he resided in Bukhara, Marv, Harran, 
Baghdad, and perhaps in Constantinople, as well as in Aleppo, Cairo, 
and finally Damascus, where he died in 950/339. The son of an army 
officer in the service of the Samanids, Alfarabi first studied Islamic 
jurisprudence and music in Bukhara, then moved to Marv, where he 
began to study logic with a Nestorian Christian monk, Yuhanna Ibn 
Haylan. While in his early twenties, Alfarabi left for Baghdad, where he 
continued to study logic and philosophy with Ibn Haylan. At the same 
time, he improved his grasp of Arabic by studying with the prominent 
philologist Ibn al-Sarraj and is said to have followed the courses of the 
famous Nestorian Christian translator and student of Aristotle, Matta Ibn 
Yunus. 

Around 905/293-910/298, Alfarabi left Baghdad for Byzantium (pos¬ 
sibly even reaching Constantinople), where he remained for about eight 
years, studying Greek sciences and philosophy. On his return to Baghdad, 
he busied himself with teaching and writing until political upheavals in 
942/330 forced him to seek refuge in Damascus. Two or three years later, 
political turmoil there drove him to Egypt, where he stayed until return- 

1 . That is, 870 of the Common Era and 256 of the Anno Hejirae (the year 622 C.E., when 
Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina, marks the beginning of the 
Muslim calendar). 



X 


Preface 


ing to Damascus in 948/337 or 949/338, a little over a year before his 
death. 2 * 4 

His writings, extraordinary in their breadth as well as in their deep 
learning, extend through all of the sciences and embrace every part of phi¬ 
losophy. Alfarabi's interest in mathematics is evidenced in commentaries 
on the Elements of Euclid and Almagest of Ptolemy, as well as in several 
writings on the history and theory of music. Indeed, his Kitab al-Musiqa al- 
KabTr, (Large Book on Music) may well be the most significant work in Ara¬ 
bic on that subject. He also wrote numerous commentaries on Aristotle's 
logical treatises, was knowledgeable about the Stagirite's physical writ¬ 
ings, and is credited with an extensive commentary on the Nicomachean 
Ethics that is no longer extant. In addition to writing the accounts of 
Plato's and Aristotle's philosophy that form the second and third parts of 
the trilogy published as the first volume in this series of Alfarabi's politi¬ 
cal writings, the Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, he composed a commen¬ 
tary on Plato's Laws. 

As the first philosopher within the tradition of Islam to explore the 
challenge to traditional philosophy presented by revealed religion, espe¬ 
cially in its claims that the Creator provides for human well-being by 
means of an inspired prophet legislator, Alfarabi has come to be known as 
the founder of Islamic political philosophy. In the first part of the Philoso¬ 
phy of Plato and Aristotle —that is, in the Attainment of Happiness —he seeks 
to pinpoint the common concerns that link Islam and its revealed law 
with pagan philosophy in its highest form—namely, the writings of Plato 
and Aristotle. That effort finds an echo in the Selected Aphorisms, the first 
writing presented in this volume, in two ways. First, the opening words of 
the treatise indicate that Alfarabi draws from what the ancients—that is, 
Plato and Aristotle—have to say about governing, but governing with a 
view to a particular purpose. For him, the goal is to govern cities so that 
they become prosperous and the lives of their citizens are improved—this 
in the sense that they be led toward happiness. Second, the overlap 
between this work and the Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, especially the 
Attainment of Happiness, indicated by these words is made even more 
explicit toward the end of the Selected Aphorisms. Indeed, a long passage in 
aphorism 94 paraphrases sections 11-20 of the Attainment of Happiness. 

2. For the preceding biographical observations, see Muhsin S. Mahdi, "Al-FarabI," in 

Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed. C. C. Gillispie (New York: Charles Scribner, 1971), vol. 

4, pp. 523-26; and "Al-Farabi's Imperfect State," in journal of the American Oriental Society 
110, no.4 (1990): 712-13. 



Preface xi 


Yet Alfarabi seems always alert to the difficulties religion and revealed 
law pose for the older approach to politics. In the fifth chapter of the Enu¬ 
meration of the Sciences, for example, he sets forth two accounts of the old 
political science. Both presuppose the validity of the traditional separa¬ 
tion between the practical and the theoretical sciences, but neither is ade¬ 
quate for the radically new situation created by the appearance of 
revealed religion. The two accounts explain in detail the actions and ways 
of life required for sound political rule to flourish, but are utterly silent 
about opinions—especially the kind of theoretical opinions that have been 
set forth in the now dominant religion—and thus are unable, given this 
religion's prevalence, to point to the kind of rulership needed. Nor can 
either speak about the opinions or actions addressed by the jurisprudence 
and theology of revealed religion. These tasks require a political science 
that both combines theoretical and practical sciences along with prudence 
and shows how they are to be ordered in the soul of the ruler. 

Such a view of political science is presented in the Book of Religion. It is 
a political science that is a part of philosophy. Yet even as Alfarabi offers 
this redemptive vision of political science, he suggests that religion and 
revelation must also be put into perspective or considered anew and then 
goes about explaining religion in such a manner that its theoretical and 
practical subordination to philosophy becomes manifest. Alfarabi's 
account of this subordination makes it seem perfectly reasonable—so rea¬ 
sonable that the limitations thereby placed on dialectical theology and 
jurisprudence appear to follow necessarily from it. 

To this explanation of the way Alfarabi elaborates the relationship 
between the philosophy of the ancients and the new revelation, one might 
object that it relies too much on a presumption of harmony and agreement 
between Plato and Aristotle on these matters. We know, however, that the 
two differed about many minor and not-so-minor questions. This issue is 
addressed in the last work presented in this volume, the highly enigmatic 
Harmonization of the Two Opinions of the Two Sages, Plato the Divine and Aris¬ 
totle. Here Alfarabi, desirous of putting an end to the disputes and discord 
among his contemporaries about the disagreement they claim to discern 
between "the two eminent and distinguished sages, Plato and Aristotle," 
sets out to show that their opinions are in agreement, to "remove doubt 
and suspicion from the hearts of those who look into their books," and to 
"explain the places of uncertainty and the sources of doubt in their trea¬ 
tises." These goals, set forth in the opening words of the treatise, are 
surely most appealing. But do they not too readily discount or ignore sim- 



xii Preface 


pie facts manifest to any student of Plato and Aristotle? Precisely for that 
reason, the reader must look again at Alfarabi's final observation as he 
begins this treatise: he deems the attempt to show the agreement or har¬ 
monization between these two philosophers' teachings to be of the utmost 
importance and, in addition, a most beneficial matter "to expound upon 
and elucidate." Stated differently, whether such agreement exists in fact 
or not, concern for the commonweal prompts Alfarabi to seek for a means 
of bringing something like agreement to light. 

Such are the general features of and linkages between the texts before us. 
Each has been translated anew for this volume, and each translation relies 
either on a text newly edited or on the revision of an older edition. To the 
extent consonant with readable English, Arabic terms have been rendered 
consistently by the same English word. Similarly, every effort has been 
made to ensure that once an English word is used for a particular Arabic 
term, it is subsequently used only for that term. The goal is to reproduce in 
faithful and readable English the argument of these Arabic texts in a man¬ 
ner that captures their texture and style and also communicates the 
nuances and variety of Alfarabi's expression. To this end, notes sometimes 
point to particular problems in a passage or to the fact that considerations 
of style or sense have made it necessary to render an important term dif¬ 
ferently. An English-Arabic and Arabic-English glossary has been placed 
at the end of the volume to provide the interested reader with the possi¬ 
bility of investigating how particular words have been translated. 

The translations presented here have benefited from the kindly sugges¬ 
tions of many readers, especially the students in undergraduate and grad¬ 
uate seminars at the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, and 
Harvard University, who wrestled valiantly with the complexities of 
Alfarabi's thought and expression. May they and all those fellow scholars 
who have read these translations with such care, pondered over my 
attempts to render Alfarabi's teaching in something approaching conven¬ 
tional English, and helped me present it more precisely or perhaps more 
elegantly, find here my warmest expressions of gratitude. Special thanks 
are due also to five individuals, each of whom contributed massively to 
this project. First, as all students of Alfarabi know so well. Professor 
Muhsin Mahdi discovered many of the manuscripts on which these trans¬ 
lations are based and prepared the excellent critical edition of the Book of 
Religion. In addition, I have benefited greatly from his sound advice on 



Preface xiii 


how to resolve particular textual problems. Professor Fauzi M. Najjar's 
sterling editions of Selected Aphorisms and Harmonization have proved to 
be especially helpful, as have his initiative and assistance in translating 
the latter for this book. Every translator should be so fortunate to have a 
reader like Miriam Galston, who allows almost nothing to pass unques¬ 
tioned, especially not infelicities of expression that admit of remedy. If 
these translations now have anything approaching literary appeal or ele¬ 
gance and some greater accuracy, it is largely due to her painstaking read¬ 
ing of the final manuscript and to her constant probing; for that precious 
gift of time and effort, my gratitude is boundless. I was also fortunate to 
have in Thomas Pangle a series editor willing to read each translation 
with great care, suggest ever so tactfully how awkward formulations 
might be better phrased, and query passages whose opacity had eluded 
me. Rima Pavalko's careful eye for details and gracious assistance with 
editorial tasks have been invaluable. To each of these benefactors, I 
express my deepest thanks and hope that this end product will seem wor¬ 
thy of their efforts. Finally, it is a great pleasure to acknowledge the sup¬ 
port of the Earhart Foundation. 




Selected Aphorisms 




The translation 


This translation is based on the text of the Selected Aphorisms edited by 
Fauzi M. Najjar just over a quarter of a century ago. 1 Najjar's edition was 
intended to expand upon, correct, and generally improve the edition and 
translation published by D. M. Dunlop a decade earlier. 2 It was primarily 
Muhsin Mahdi's discovery in Turkey of an older and more reliable manu¬ 
script of this work that prompted the new edition. This manuscript, from 
the Diyarbekir Central Library (no. 1970), had not been known to Dunlop 
and offered better readings of key passages as well as a more complete 
text. In addition, Mahdi discovered another Turkish manuscript unknown 
to Dunlop—the Istanbul Millet Library, Feyzullah, no. 1279. Though it 
was not much more reliable than the two manuscripts on which Dunlop 
had based his work (the Chester Beatty, no. 3714; and Bodleian, Hunt., no. 
307), Najjar's acquisition of copies of two other manuscripts unknown to 
Dunlop (the University of Teheran, Central Library, Mishkat, no. 250, and 
the University of Teheran, Faculty of Divinity, Ilahiyyat, no. 695) allowed 
him to improve considerably upon Dunlop's edition. These improve¬ 
ments appear throughout the text, but are especially evident in the new 
aphorisms (3, 15, 23, and 40) and the additional sentences in aphorisms 6, 


1. See Abu Nasr al-Farabi, Fusiil Muntaza'a, (Selected Aphorisms), edited, with an intro¬ 
duction and notes, by Fauzi M. Najjar (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1971). 

2. See Al-Farabi: Fusiil al-Madani, Aphorisms of the Statesman, edited with an English 
translation, introduction and notes, by D. M. Dunlop (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1961). 



4 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


8, and 26 (corresponding to Dunlop's 5, 7, and 23). Again, in aphorisms 
68-87, where Dunlop had to rely solely on the Chester Beatty source, Naj¬ 
jar's richer manuscript base offered far better textual readings and clari¬ 
fied many problems Dunlop had not been able to resolve. 

The numbering of the aphorisms in the present translation corre¬ 
sponds to Najjar's edition, but the section titles and other material found 
within square brackets have been added by me. Some of these divisions 
are supported by marginal notations found in the Diyarbekir and Univer¬ 
sity of Teheran Central Library manuscripts. Still, Dunlop's erroneous 
division of the text into two parts (aphorisms 1-65 and 66-96) on the basis 
of a marginal note in the Chester Beatty manuscript shows that such deci¬ 
sions cannot be reached on the basis of scribal marginalia alone, but must 
also be consonant with the sense of the argument. 3 Also of my doing is the 
sentence punctuation and paragraph divisions within the aphorisms. The 
numbers within square brackets refer to the pages of Najjar's Arabic text. 
With these additions, as with the notes, my primary goal has been to 
make it easier for the reader to seize and follow Alfarabi's argument. 

The same goal guides this translation. Years of using Dunlop's trans¬ 
lation with students who do not read Arabic showed that it would not be 
sufficient merely to insert Najjar's new aphorisms and otherwise lightly 
touch up his version. Rather, it had become clear that a technically rigor¬ 
ous rendering of the text was needed. For example, in aphorism 57, Dun¬ 
lop renders the term al-madina al-fadila, not as "the virtuous city" (which 
corresponds to the context and its discussion of virtue) but as "the ideal 
city." In aphorism 2, where Alfarabi contrasts noble actions ( al-af r al 
al-jamila) with base actions ( al-af’al al-qabiha), a contrast perfectly in keep¬ 
ing with the other one he is making between virtue and vice, Dunlop 
translates these as "fair actions" and "ugly actions," thereby leaving the 
reader to wonder what Alfarabi is talking about. In keeping with this 
lack of rigor is Dunlop's tendency to use different English terms for the 
same Arabic terms and the same English term to translate different Ara¬ 
bic ones, a practice that deprives the reader of learning anything about 
Alfarabi's philosophic or political vocabulary. 

To be sure, the contrary practice I have adopted sometimes obliges the 
reader to pause and puzzle out certain passages. The attempt to render 
Arabic terms consistently with the same English ones does not always lend 


3. See Muhsin Mahdi, “Review of Al-Farabi: Fusul al-Madam, Aphorisms of the States¬ 
man," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 23 (1964): 140-43. 



Selected Aphorisms 5 


itself to seamless, fluid prose. It should come as no surprise that particu¬ 
larly when he is engaged in discussions of difficult questions, as when he is 
explaining wisdom (aph. 37), Alfarabi's Arabic prose is equally strained. 
The extremes to be avoided in translation seem to be the excessive 
pedantry or desire for precision that creates confusion where none exists 
and the insufficient attentiveness that leads to smoothing over just those 
difficulties that one ought not remove. Though awareness of them offers 
no immunity, it is surely a better portent for a translation than nescience. 

The title of the work 

Only one of the known manuscripts—namely, the "Book of the Apho¬ 
risms of the Statesman, by Abu Nasr al-Farabl"—offers a title. It is also 
one of the latest and least reliable manuscripts, the Bodleian. Moreover, 
no medieval bibliographic source attributes a book with this title to 
Alfarabi; nor does the famous nineteenth century historian of medieval 
Islamic and Jewish philosophy, Moritz Steinschneider, ever refer to it by 
this name. He, like Najjar, looks back to those traditional sources as well 
as to the way the work is identified in the first few lines of the other man¬ 
uscripts and opts for the appellation "The Selected Aphorisms"; in doing 
so, Steinschneider departs only minutely from the other title traditionally 
assigned the work, the one Najjar opts for—"Selected Aphorisms." 4 

Najjar relies principally upon the Diyarbekir manuscript to establish 
this title. With minor variations, the first few lines of this manuscript and 
three of the other five manuscripts read: 

Selected aphorisms that comprise the roots of many of the sayings of the 
Ancients concerning that by which cities ought to be governed and made 
prosperous, the ways of life of their inhabitants improved, and they be led 
toward happiness. 

The emphasis here is thus on the partial character of the treatise: it con¬ 
tains selected aphorisms that encompass the foundations, principles, or 
grounds of several—that is, not all—of the sayings of the ancients. More¬ 
over, those sayings are limited to political subjects, especially ones relat¬ 
ing to rule. Only in the two Teheran manuscripts is a reading substantially 
different from this prefatory passage to be found. Because it places greater 


4. See Najjar, pp. 10-13 an d notes. 



6 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


stress upon human virtue than on political order and thereby suggests a 
different orientation to the work, it is worth citing in full: 

These are the sentences and aphorisms chosen from the science of morals 
[and] comprise: acquiring the virtues of the human soul, avoiding its vices, 
moving the human being himself from his bad habits to fine habits, mak¬ 
ing firm the virtuous city, and making firm the household and the ruler- 
ship over its inhabitants. They are all brought together in this epistle . 5 

Moreover, in both these manuscripts the work is identified as an epis¬ 
tle ( risala ). Such differences notwithstanding, insofar as both versions pro¬ 
vide a summary preview of the argument to come, they may well be 
nothing more than attempts on the part of industrious scribes to offer 
readers a preliminary synopsis of the work. 

In translating the term fusul (sing./as/) as "aphorisms" here, I do no 
more than follow in the steps of the first editor and translator—Dunlop— 
just as the second editor—Najjar—and most other scholars have done. 
Yet Dunlop's recourse to Maimonides in order to urge that aphorisms are 
necessarily incomplete or fall short of a fully scientific explanation seems 
unwarranted. 6 Nor, pithy as they are, is anything to be gained by conjec¬ 
turing that Alfarabi understands fusul to mean "aphorisms" in the sense 
Nietzsche ascribes to the term almost a millennium later. 7 The matter is 
much more straightforward: we need only note how "aphorism," derived 
from the Greek aphorizein ("to mark off" or "to determine"), is aptly cap¬ 
tured by the Arabic fasl and understand the English term in light of its 
Greek origin. Indeed, since Alfarabi at no point indicates why he calls the 
divisions of this work fusul, he may mean nothing more by the term than 
"sections" or some other form of textual break. Still, given the shortness 
of many of th e fusul, there is no good reason to call them "chapters." 


The structure of the work 

The work itself consists of 96 aphorisms. The four additional and con¬ 
tested aphorisms, found only in the most recent and least reliable of the 

5. See Najjar, p. 23 note 2. In parentheses, Najjar adds "five chapters" (khamsal abwdb) 
after "epistle," but the link with the rest of the note is not evident. 

6. See Dunlop, p. 10. 

7. See Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral (Towards a genealogy of morals) 
Preface, no. 8; and also Morgenrote (Daybreak), no. 454. 



Selected Aphorisms 7 


six manuscripts, are sufficiently problematic that it is best to set them 
apart. In the Selected Aphorisms, Alfarabi begins with, then develops, a 
comparison between the health of the soul and that of the body. That is, 
somewhat abruptly, he starts his exposition by defining the health of each 
and then explains how the health of the more important of the two—that 
of the soul—may be obtained and its sickness repulsed. The first word of 
the Selected Aphorisms is simply "soul," while the last is "virtue." In the 96 
aphorisms occurring between these two words, Alfarabi first enters upon 
a detailed examination of the soul, then provides an account and justifica¬ 
tion of the well-ordered political regime that the soul needs in order to 
attain its perfection. At no point in the treatise or epistle does he speak of 
prophecy or of the prophet or legislator. The terms are not even evoked. 
He is equally silent with respect to the philosopher and mentions "philos¬ 
ophy" only twice, both in the antepenultimate aphorism 94—the same 
aphorism in which he mentions, for the only time, the word "revelation." 
On the other hand, Alfarabi speaks constantly throughout these apho¬ 
risms of the statesman ( madani ) and of the king. 

The "Ancients" referred to in the few lines preceding the first apho¬ 
rism are, of course, none other than Plato and Aristotle. Alfarabi calls 
upon them in this work to identify the political order that will bring about 
human happiness. The individual who succeeds in understanding how a 
political community can be well-ordered—whether this person is a states¬ 
man or a king—will do for the citizens what the physician does for indi¬ 
vidual sick persons and will accomplish for the citizens who follow his 
rules what the prophet accomplishes for those who follow his. Nonethe¬ 
less, to attain such an understanding, one must first be fully acquainted 
with the soul as well as with political life. More precisely, the virtuous 
political regime is the one in which the souls of all the inhabitants are as 
healthy as possible: "the one who cures souls is the statesman, and he is 
also called the king" (aph. 4). 

This is why such a patently political treatise contains two long discus¬ 
sions of the soul. One, very reminiscent of what is found in the Nico- 
machean Ethics, explains all the faculties of the soul except for the 
theoretical part of the rational faculty (aphs. 6-21). The other analyzes this 
theoretical part as well as its companion, the practical part, by discussing 
the intellectual virtues (aphs. 33-56). In addition, there is an investigation 
of the sound and erroneous opinions with respect to the principles of 
being and happiness (aphs. 68-87). These three groups of aphorisms con¬ 
stitute a little less than two-thirds of the treatise. Void of formal structure 



8 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


or divisions, the treatise unfolds in such a manner that each moral discus¬ 
sion is preceded and followed by other groups of aphorisms that go more 
deeply into its political teaching. 

Thus, the discussion of the soul in general is preceded by a series of 
analogies between the soul and the body as well as between the soul and 
the body politic (aphs. 1-5) and followed first by a discussion devoted to 
domestic political economy (aphs. 22-29) and then by an inquiry into the 
king in truth (aphs. 30-32). The second discussion of the soul, preceded by 
these three aphorisms, is followed by an inquiry into the virtuous city 
(aphs. 57-67). This in turn precedes the investigation of sound and erro¬ 
neous opinions, itself followed by the account of the virtuous regime 
(aphs. 88-96). Subsequent to each moral digression, the tone of the discus¬ 
sion seems to become more elevated, almost as though the moral teaching 
were the driving force for the political teaching of the treatise or were at 
least giving it direction. 

Here, then, is the schematic structure of the treatise or epistle as I 
understand it: 

A. ANALOGIES BETWEEN THE SOUL AND THE BODY AND THEN BETWEEN THE 
SOUL AND THE BODY POLITIC (aphs.1-5) 

B. THE HUMAN SOUL, ITS VIRTUES AND VICES (aphs. 6-2l) 

C. HOUSEHOLDS, DWELLINGS, AND CITIES (aphs. 22-29) 

D. ON THE KING IN TRUTH (aphs. 30-32) 

E. THE INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES (aphs. 33-56) 

F. THE VIRTUOUS CITY (aphs. 57-67) 

G. THE DIVISIONS OF BEING AND THE STATUS OF HAPPINESS: SOUND VS. ERRO¬ 
NEOUS opinions (aphs. 68-87) 

H. THE VIRTUOUS REGIME (aphs. 88-96) 

I. THE DOUBTFUL APHORISMS (aphs. 97-IO0) 

Such an explanation of the general structure of Alfarabi's Selected 
Aphorisms and identification of its major themes raise at least two ques¬ 
tions. First, what do aphorisms 22-29 and 30-32 bring to the general expo¬ 
sition that warrants their interrupting Alfarabi's explanation of the 
human soul and its faculties (aphs. 6-21 and 33-56)? Or, differently 
stated, why can Alfarabi not provide a full account of the soul's facul¬ 
ties—especially of its intellectual faculty—before having discussed the 
way human beings live together and a particular kind of monarch? 
Clearly, his discussion of the deeper significance behind seemingly basic 



Selected Aphorisms 9 


practical arrangements to facilitate life in community and of the qualities 
obviously desirable in one identified as the best possible ruler prepares— 
indeed, it presupposes—a fuller account of the soul. That is, Alfarabi's 
exposition points to the limitations of moral virtue. For life in common 
and, even more, for the best kind of political rule, human beings need 
more than moderation and courage. 

The second question arising from attention to the structure of this 
work has to do with the topics of aphorisms 68-87. Once the human soul 
has been fully explained—that is, once its moral and intellectual excel¬ 
lences have been identified and described in detail—Alfarabi focuses on 
providing for the soul in a proper political order. So what prompts him to 
pause in the middle of that discussion and turn to questions having to do 
with physical science as well as with metaphysics or even theology? This 
question, too, admits of a different formulation: why is it necessary to dis¬ 
tinguish the sound opinions about the principles of being and the status of 
happiness from the erroneous ones before moving from a discussion of a 
particular form of virtuous political community, the city, to the virtuous 
regime in general? It almost seems that the virtuous city is so particular 
and so dependent on a series of fortuitous circumstances coming about as 
to absolve Alfarabi from providing a full-blown account of being and hap¬ 
piness when his attention is focused on that city. With respect to it, a 
merely persuasive account of such matters will suffice. When the broader 
political entity encompassed by the term regime is being investigated, 
however, something more is needed. Something more is needed because 
what can be gained in the regime, for the ruler as well as for the ruled, far 
surpasses what can be gained in the city. The distinction between the two 
turns not on their relative size—not, that is, on the notion that the regime 
is larger insofar as it encompasses a number of cities—but on the greater 
virtue and greater happiness to which both ruler and ruled can aspire in 
the virtuous regime (aph. 89). Here alone, or so it seems, can ruler and 
ruled aspire to completing themselves as human beings. 

In this sense, the title formerly ascribed to the work. Aphorisms of the 
Statesman, is almost more appropriate than the one by which it is pre¬ 
sented here. Selected Aphorisms. These are aphorisms that tell the would-be 
statesman precisely the kind of things he needs to know in order to rule. 
They answer, with concision, the questions he might raise about the moral 
and intellectual virtues, about the way people live together, and so forth. 
What is more, these aphorisms draw upon the wisdom of Plato and Aris¬ 
totle—as much the one as the other—in order to answer such questions. 



10 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


The same line of reasoning explains another characteristic of this 
work: the fundamental or basic character of its teaching—its appearance 
as something like a primer for politics. Alfarabi posits in this work the 
fundamentals with respect to the soul, the city, and ruling. Drawing on 
Aristotle without saying so, he provides an excellent summary of the key 
points of the Nicomachean Ethics with respect to the moral virtues, the dis¬ 
tinction between virtue and self-restraint, and the intellectual virtues. 
Then, drawing on Plato without saying so, he provides a kind of sum¬ 
mary of the Republic to explain the idea of political justice and the basic 
distribution of duties in the virtuous city. He also explains what opinions 
one should hold about the soul and its faculties, the life to come, the prin¬ 
ciples of being, ultimate happiness, and similar matters. As a result, it 
becomes perfectly patent here that good practice presupposes correct 
understanding or that knowledge is virtue. 



Selected Aphorisms 


[23] Selected aphorisms that comprise the roots of many of the sayings 
of the Ancients concerning that by which cities ought to be governed and 
made prosperous, the ways of life of their inhabitants improved, and they 
be led toward happiness. 

[a. analogies between the soul and the body and 

THEN BETWEEN THE SOUL AND THE BODY POLITIC.] 

1. Aphorism. The soul has health and sickness just as the body has 
health and sickness. The health of the soul is for its traits and the traits 
of its parts to be traits by which it can always do good things, fine 
things, and noble actions. Its sickness is for its traits and the traits of its 
parts to be traits by which it always does evil things, wicked things, and 
base actions. The health of the body is for its traits and the traits of its 
parts to be traits by which the soul does its actions in the most complete 
and perfect way, whether those [24] actions that come about by means 
of the body or its parts are good ones or evil ones. Its sickness is for its 
traits and the traits of its parts to be traits by which the soul does not do 
its actions that come about by means of the body or its parts, or does 
them in a more diminished manner than it ought or not 1 as was its wont 
to do them. 


1. Reading aw la, for sense, rather than awwalan ("first"). 


11 



12 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


2 . Aphorism. The traits of the soul by which a human being does good 
things and noble actions are virtues. Those by which he does evil things 
and base actions are vices, defects, and villainies. 

3. Aphorism. Just as the health of the body is an equilibrium of its tem¬ 
perament and its sickness is a deviation from equilibrium, so, too, are the 
health of the city and its uprightness an equilibrium of the moral habits of 
its inhabitants and its sickness a disparity found in their moral habits. 
When the body deviates from equilibrium in its temperament, the one 
who brings it back to equilibrium and preserves it there is the physician. 
So, too, when the city deviates from equilibrium with respect to the moral 
habits of its inhabitants, the one who brings it back to uprightness and 
preserves it there is the statesman. So the statesman and physician have 
their two actions in common and differ with respect to the two subjects of 
their two arts. For the subject of the former is souls and the subject of the 
latter, bodies. And just as the soul is more eminent than the body, so, too, 
is the statesman more eminent than the physician. 

4. Aphorism. The one who cures bodies is the physician; and the one 
who cures souls is the statesman, and he is also called the king. However, 
the intention of the physician in curing bodies is not to make its traits 
such that the soul does good things or wicked ones by means of them. 
Rather, he intends only to make its traits such that by means of them the 
actions of the soul coming about by means of the body and its parts are 
I25] more perfect, whether those actions are wicked things or fine ones. 

The physician who cures the body does so only to improve a human 
being's strength, regardless of whether he uses that improved 2 strength in 
fine things or wicked ones. The one who cures the eye intends thereby 
only to improve sight, regardless of whether he uses that in what he ought 
and becomes fine or in what he ought not and becomes base. Therefore, to 
look into the health of the body and its sickness from this perspective is 
not up to the physician insofar as he is a physician, but up to the states¬ 
man and the king. Indeed, the statesman by means of the political art and 
the king by means of the art of kingship determine where it ought to be 
done, with respect to whom it ought to be done and with respect to whom 
not done, and what sort of health bodies ought to be provided with and 
what sort they ought not to be provided with. 


2. Literally, "excellent" ( al-jayyid ). 



Selected Aphorisms 


13 


Therefore, the case of the kingly and the political art 3 with respect to 
the rest of the arts in cities is that of the master builder with respect to the 
builders. For the rest of the arts in cities are carried out and practiced only 
so as to complete by means of them the purpose of the political art and the 
kingly art, 4 just as the ruling art among the arts of the builders uses the 
rest of them in order to complete its intention by means of them. 

5. Aphorism. The physician who cures bodies needs to be cognizant 5 of 
[26] the body in its entirety and of the parts of the body, of what sick¬ 
nesses occur to the whole of the body and to each one of its parts, from 
what they occur, from how much of a thing, of the way to make them 
cease, and of the traits that when attained by the body and its parts make 
the actions coming about in the body perfect and complete. Likewise, the 
statesman and the king who cure souls need to be cognizant of the soul in 
its entirety and of its parts, of what defects and vices occur to it and to 
each one of its parts, from what they occur, from how much of a thing, of 
the traits of the soul by which a human does good things and how many 
they are, of the way to make the vices of the inhabitants of cities cease, of 
the devices to establish these traits in the souls of the citizens, and of the 
way of governing so as to preserve these traits among them so that they 
do not cease. And yet 6 he ought to be cognizant of only as much about the 
soul as is needed in his art just as the physician needs to be cognizant of 
only as much about the body as is needed in his art, and the carpenter 
with respect to wood or the smith with respect to iron only as much as is 
needed in his art. 


[b. the human soul, its virtues and vices] 

6. Aphorism. Some bodies are artificial and some are natural. The artifi¬ 
cial are like a couch, a sword, glass, and similar things. The natural are 


3. Reading sinaht al-malik wa al-madaniyya, for sense, rather than sina'at al-mulk wa al- 
madina ("the art of kingship and of the city"). 

4. Reading wa bi-sina’at al-malik, for sense, rather than tea bi-sina' at al-mulk ("the art of 
kingship"). 

5. Thetermis'ara/a; here and in what follows I translate it and its substantive, ma’rifa, 
as "to be cognizant of" or "to recognize," and "cognizance," in order to distinguish them 
from r alima and 'ilm, which I translate as "to know," and "science" or "knowledge." The 
goal of such a distinction is to preserve the difference between gignoskein and epistasthai 
that these terms seem to reflect. 

6. Reading wa lakin innamd, with all the manuscripts except the Diyarbekir. 



14 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


like human beings and the rest of the animals. Every one of them is joined 
together from two things, one of which is matter and the other form. The 
matter of an artificial body [27] is like the wood of a couch, and the form is 
like the shape of the couch, namely, its being square, round, or otherwise. 
Matter is potentially a couch; by means of the form it becomes a couch in 
actuality. The matter of a natural body is its elements, and the form is that 
by which each becomes what it is. Genera are similar to matters, and dif¬ 
ferentiae are similar to forms. 7 

7. Aphorism. There are five major parts and faculties of the soul: the nutri¬ 
tive; the sense perceptive; the imaginative; the appetitive; and the rational. 

[a] In general, the nutritive is the one that carries out a certain action 
upon, by means of, or from, nutriment. 

There are three types of nutriment: primary, intermediate, and final. 
The primary is like bread, flesh, and all that has not yet begun to be 
digested. The final is that which has been completely digested until it has 
become similar to the member that is nourished by it: if the member is 
flesh, then insofar as that nutriment becomes flesh; and if it is bone, then 
[by becoming] bone. The intermediate is of two types. One is that which is 
cooked in the stomach and intestines until it has become prepared for 
blood to come from it, and the second is blood. 

Of the nutritive there are the digestive, growing, procreative, attract¬ 
ing, retentive, distinguishing, and expelling faculties. The more appropri¬ 
ate way to speak about 8 the nutritive is that it is what simmers the blood, 
reaching each and every member until it becomes similar to that member. 

The digestive is what simmers the primary nutriment in the stomach and 
intestines until it becomes prepared for blood to come from it, then what 
cooks this preparation—in the liver, for example—until it becomes blood. 

The growing is what, by means of nutriment, [28] increases the quan¬ 
tity of the member in all its dimensions during development until each 
member reaches its ultimate possible size. 

The procreative is what—from the surplus of nutriment close to the 


7. Particular beings fit into broader classes such as body, self-nourishing, animal, and 
human. A genus is the more general class that encompasses the classes called species. 
Thus, the species of human being, donkey, and horse all fall under the genera of animal, 
self-nourishing, and the ultimate genus of body. To distinguish one species in a genus 
from another species in the same genus, recourse is had .to the differentia, as when the 
human being is distinguished from the donkey and the horse by means of reason. 

8. Literally, "the more truthful way to call" (wa qhaqq ma yusammi). 



Selected Aphorisms 15 


final, namely, the blood—makes another body similar in kind to the body 
from whose nutriment the surplus overflowed. These are of two sorts. 
One gives matter to what is procreated, namely, the female; and the other 
gives it form, namely, the male. From these two, it comes to be that an ani¬ 
mal coming into being from another is similar to it in kind. 

The attracting is what attracts the nutriment from place to place until it 
arrives at the body being nourished so as to come into contact with it and 
blend with it. 

The retentive is what preserves nutriment in the vessel of the body it 
has reached. 

The distinguishing is what distinguishes the surplus amounts of nutri¬ 
ment and the sorts of nutriment, then distributes to every member what 
resembles it. 

The expelling is what expels the sorts of surplus amounts of nutriment 
from place to place. 

[b] The sense perceptive faculty is the one that perceives by means of 
one of the five senses of which everyone is cognizant. 

[c] The imaginative is the one that preserves the traces of sense percep¬ 
tions after their absence from the contact of the senses, brings about dif¬ 
ferent combinations of some with others, and separates some from others 
in many different ways—some of these being accurate and some being 
false. And this occurs both in waking and in sleep. This and the nutritive, 
apart from the rest of the faculties, may be active in sleep. 

[d] The appetitive faculty is that by which the appetition of an animal 
for something comes about and by which there is longing for [29] some¬ 
thing, loathing for it, seeking and fleeing, preference and avoidance, anger 
and contentedness, fear and boldness, harshness and compassion, love and 
hatred, 9 passion, desire, and the rest of the accidents of the soul. The tools 
of this faculty are all of the faculties by which the movements of every one 
of the members and of the body in its entirety are facilitated, such as the 
faculty of the hands for strength, the legs for walking, and other members. 

[e] The rational faculty is the one by which a human being intellects, 
carries out deliberation, acquires the sciences and arts, and distinguishes 
between noble and base actions. Of it, there is practical and theoretical. Of 
the practical, some involves skill and some calculation. 

9. There is no necessity that the affections enumerated here—that is, seeking and 
fleeing, preference and avoidance, anger and contentedness, fear and boldness, harshness 
and compassion, love and hatred—be read as pairs. The text permits reading them as indi¬ 
vidual affections. 



16 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


The theoretical is that by which a human being has knowledge of the 
beings that are not such that we can act upon them or alter them from 
one condition to another. Three, for example, is an odd number and four 
an even number. It is not possible for us to alter three so that it becomes 
even while remaining three, nor four so that it becomes odd while 
remaining four, though it is possible for us to alter wood so that it 
becomes round after having been square while remaining wood in both 
conditions. 

The practical is what distinguishes the things such that we act upon 
them and alter them from one condition to another. What involves skill 
or art is that by which crafts such as carpentry, farming, medicine, and 
sailing are acquired. What involves calculation is that by which we delib¬ 
erate 10 about [30] something we want to do when we want to do it, 
whether it is possible to do or not and, if it is possible, how that ought to 
be done. 

8. Aphorism. The virtues are of two sorts, moral and rational. The 
rational are the virtues of the rational part such as wisdom, intellect, clev¬ 
erness, quick-wittedness, and excellent understanding. 11 The moral are 
the virtues of the appetitive part such as moderation, courage, liberality, 
and justice. Likewise, the vices are divided in this manner and are, within 
the compass of each of the divisions, the contraries of these that have been 
enumerated and of their purposes. 

9. Aphorism. The moral virtues and vices are attained and established in 
the soul only by repeating the actions coming about from that moral habit 
many times over a certain time [period] and accustoming ourselves to 
them. If those actions are good things, what we attain is virtue; and if they 
are evil things, what we attain is vice. It is like this with arts such as writ¬ 
ing. For by our repeating the actions of writing many times and accus¬ 
toming ourselves to them, we attain the art of writing and it becomes 
established in us. If the actions of writing we repeat and accustom our¬ 
selves to are bad, wretched 12 writing is established in us; and if they are 
excellent actions, excellent writing is established in us. [31]' 


10. Reading nurawwl, with the Chester Beatty and Feyzullah manuscripts, rather than 
yurawwi ("one deliberates") or yuraurway ("it is deliberated"), with Najjar and the 
Diyarbekir manuscript. 

11. These virtues will be discussed more fully below in aphorisms 33-49. 

12. Literally, "wicked" (sir’). 



Selected Aphorisms 17 


10. Aphorism. It is not possible for a human being to be endowed by 
nature from the outset possessing virtue or vice, just as it is not possible 
for a human being to be endowed by nature as a weaver or a scribe. But it 
is possible for one to be endowed by nature disposed for virtuous or 
vicious actions in that such actions are easier for him than other actions, 
just as it is possible to be disposed by nature for the actions of writing or 
of another art in that its actions are easier for him than other actions. Thus 
from the outset he is moved to do what is by nature easier for him when 
he is not prompted to its contrary by some prompting from outside. That 
natural disposition is not said to be a virtue, just as the natural disposition 
for the actions of an art is not said to be an art. 

But when there is a natural disposition for virtuous actions and those 
actions are repeated, 13 a trait is established by custom in the soul, and 
those very actions issue forth from it, then the trait established by custom 
is what is said to be a virtue. The natural trait is not called a virtue nor a 
defect even if one and the same action issues forth from it. [32] The natu¬ 
ral ones have no name. If someone calls them a virtue or a defect, he calls 
them so only due to homonymity, not due to the meaning of the latter 
being the meaning of the former. Those [actions] due to custom are those 
for which a human being is praised or blamed, whereas a human being is 
not praised or blamed for the others. 

11. Aphorism. It is difficult and unusual that someone exist who is com¬ 
pletely disposed by nature for all the virtues, moral and rational, just as it 
is difficult that someone exist who is naturally disposed for all the arts. 
Similarly, it is difficult and unusual that someone exist who is naturally 
disposed for all the evil actions. Yet neither matter is impossible. More 
often, everyone is disposed for a certain virtue, virtues of a definite num¬ 
ber, a certain art, or a definite number of certain arts. So this [individual] 
is disposed for one thing, 14 another disposed for another thing, and a third 
[individual] disposed for some third virtue or art. 

12. Aphorism. When to the natural traits and dispositions for virtue or 
vice are added the moral habits resembling them and they are established 

13. Omitting wa u'tidat ("and are made customary"), with the University of Teheran, 
Faculty of Divinity manuscript. 

14. Reading nahwa shai’ awuial (literally, "for a first thing"), with the Chester Beatty 
and Feyzullah manuscripts, rather than nahwa dha ("for that"), with Najjar and the other 
manuscripts. 



18 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


by custom, that human being is [33] as complete as can be with respect to 
that thing. It is difficult for a trait established in a human being to be 
removed, whether it be good or evil. 

When at some time someone exists who is completely disposed by 
nature for all of the virtues and they are then established in him by cus¬ 
tom, this human being surpasses in virtue the virtues found among most 
people to the point that he almost goes beyond the human virtues to a 
higher class of humanity. The Ancients used to call this human being 
divine. The one contrary to him and disposed to all of the evil actions, in 
whom the traits of those evils are established by custom, they almost 
place beyond the human evils to what is even more evil. They have no 
name for the excess of his evil and sometimes call him a beast and similar 
names. 

It is rare for these two extremes to be found in people. When the first 
exists, he is of a higher rank according to them than being a statesman 
who serves one of 15 the cities. Rather he governs all cities and is the king 
in truth. When the second happens to exist, he does not rule any city at all, 
nor does he serve it; rather, he goes away from all cities. 

13. Aphorism. Some natural traits and dispositions for virtue or vice 
may be completely removed or altered by custom so that contrary traits 
are established in the soul in their stead. [34] With others, their power is 
broken, weakened, and made defective without their being completely 
removed. And others are not removed or altered, nor is their power made 
defective; but they are resisted by endurance, by restraining the soul from 
their actions, by contending, and by withstanding until a human being 
always does the contraries of their actions. Similarly, when bad moral 
habits are established in the soul by custom, they are also divided in this 
manner. 

14. Aphorism. There is a difference between the one who is self- 
restrained and the one who is virtuous. 

That is, even if the one who is self-restrained does virtuous actions, he 
does good things while having a passion and a longing for evil. He con¬ 
tends against his passion and resists what his trait and his yearning 
inspire him to do. He does good things and is irritated at doing them. The 


15. Adding madma min before cil-mudun, with the Feyzullah manuscript. 



Selected Aphorisms 19 


one who is virtuous follows what his trait and his yearning inspire him to 
do. He carries out good things while having a passion and a longing for 
them, and he is not irritated at [doing] them; rather, he takes pleasure in 
them- 

That is like the difference between the one who endures the severe 
pain he encounters and the one who is not pained and does not feel pain. 
Similarly, there is the one who is moderate and the one who is self- 
restrained. The one who is moderate [35] does only what traditional law 16 
requires of him with respect to eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse, 
without having a desire or a longing for what is in addition to what the 
traditional law requires. The longing of the one who is self-restrained is 
excessive with respect to these things and other than what the traditional 
law requires. He does the actions of the traditional law, while his yearn¬ 
ing is for their contrary. Yet the one who is self-restrained may take the 
place of the one who is virtuous with respect to many matters. 

15. Aphorism. The person of praiseworthy moral [virtue] whose soul 
inclines to no vice at all differs from the self-restrained person with 
respect to the excellence to which each lays claim. If the governor of cities 
possesses praiseworthy morals and his praiseworthy acts are states of 
character, then he is more excellent than if he were self-restrained. 
Whereas if the citizen and the one by whom cities are made prosperous 
restrains himself in accordance with what the nomos 17 requires, he is 
more virtuous than if his virtues were natural. 

The cause for that is that the self-restrained person and the one who 
adheres to the nomos lay claim to the virtue of struggle. If he lapses as a 
citizen rather than as a ruler, the rulers will set him straight; his crime and 
corruption do not go beyond him. The righteousness of the ruler, how¬ 
ever, is shared by the inhabitants of his kingdom. So if he lapses at all, his 
corruption extends to many besides him. His virtues must be natural and 
be states of character, and a sufficient reward for him is what he erects in 
those whom he sets straight. 

16. Aphorism. Evils are made to cease in cities either by virtues that are 
established in the souls of the people or by their becoming self-restrained. 


16. The term is sunna. 

17. The term is namus. 



20 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


Any human being whose evil cannot be made to cease by a virtue being 
established in his soul or by self-restraint is to be put outside of cities. 

17. Aphorism. It is difficult, nay impossible, for a human being to be so 
endowed as [36] to be disposed for actions, then to be unable to do the 
contraries of those actions. Yet any human being endowed with a trait 
and disposition for virtuous or vicious actions is able to resist and to do 
the action arising from the contrary of that disposition. But that is difficult 
for him until it becomes facilitated and easy through custom, as is the case 
with what is established by custom. For abandoning what has become 
customary and doing its contrary is possible but difficult until it also 
becomes customary. 

18. Aphorism. Actions that are good are equilibrated actions intermedi¬ 
ate between two extremes, both of which are evil: one being an excess, 
and the other a deficiency. Similarly, virtues are traits of the soul and 
states intermediate between two traits both of which are vices, one of 
which is greater and the other lesser—like moderation, for it is intermedi¬ 
ate between avidity and insensibility to pleasure. One of the two is 
greater—namely, avidity—and the other is lesser. 

Liberality is intermediate between stinginess and wastefulness, and 
courage is intermediate between rashness and cowardice. Wittiness is 
intermediate between impudence and wantonness [on the one hand] and 
dullness [on the other] with respect to jesting, playfulness, and what is 
related to them. Humility is a moral habit intermediate between prideful- 
ness [on the one hand] and disparagement or familiarity [on the other]. 
Respectfulness is a moral virtue intermediate between haughtiness, swag¬ 
gering, or vainglory [on the one hand] and self-abasement [on the other]. 
Gentleness is intermediate between [37] excessive anger and not becom¬ 
ing angry at anything at all. Modesty is intermediate between insolence 
and being tongue-tied. Friendliness is intermediate between surliness and 
flattery. And similarly for the rest of them. 

19. Aphorism. What is equilibrated and intermediate is spoken of in two 
ways. One is what is intermediate in itself and the other what is interme¬ 
diate in relation and by analogy to another. 

What is intermediate in itself is like six being intermediate between ten 
and two, for the increment of ten over six is like the increment of six over 
two. This is what is intermediate in itself between two extremes. And 



Selected Aphorisms 21 


every number resembles this in the same way. This intermediate neither 
increases nor decreases, for what is intermediate between ten and two is 
at no moment other than six. 

What is intermediate in relation does increase and decrease at differ¬ 
ent times and in accordance with the differing in the things to which it is 
related. For example, the equilibrated nutriment for a youth and that 
which is equilibrated for a completely industrious man differs in accor¬ 
dance with the difference in their bodies. What is intermediate for one of 
the two is other than what is intermediate for the other with respect to 
extent and number, thickness and softness, heaviness and lightness, and, 
in general, with respect to quantity and quality. Similarly, an equilibrated 
climate is in relation to bodies. That condition of being equilibrated and 
being intermediate with respect to nutriments and medicaments is only 
increased and decreased in [38] quantity and quality in accordance with 
the bodies that are being treated, in accordance with their power, in 
accordance with the art of the sick person, 18 in accordance with the coun¬ 
try he is in, in accordance with his previous customs, in accordance with 
his age, and in accordance with the power of the medicament in itself— 
so that with respect to a single ailing person the quantity of a single 
medicament is made to differ in accordance with the difference of the 
seasons. 

This intermediate is the intermediate that is used with respect to 
actions and with respect to moral habits, for the quantity of actions in 
number and extent and their quality in intensity and lassitude ought to be 
determined only in accordance with the relation to the one acting, the one 
to whom the action is [directed], and that for the sake of which the action 
is [done]; in accordance with the time; and in accordance with the place. 
With anger, for example, what is equilibrated with respect to it is in accor¬ 
dance with the condition of the one at whom one is angry, in accordance 
with the thing for the sake of which there is anger, and in accordance with 
the time and place in which it occurs. Similarly, the quantitative and qual¬ 
itative extent of the beating in 19 punishments is in accordance with the one 
beating and the one beaten, in accordance with the offense for which there 
is a beating, and in accordance with the instrument by which the beating 
[is given]. It is similar with respect to the rest of the actions. For what is 


18. That is, in accordance with the art or trade the sick person pursues. 

19. Reading/}; with the Feyzullah manuscript, rather than wa ("and"), with Najjar and 
the other manuscripts. 



22 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


intermediate in every action is what is determined in relation to the things 
the action encompasses. The things to which the different actions are com¬ 
pared [39] so as to be determined are not the same in number for every 
action. Rather, this action is determined in relation to five things, for 
example, and another action [in relation] to fewer or more than five things. 

20. Aphorism. What is intermediate with respect to nutriments and 
medicaments is what is intermediate and equilibrated for most of the peo¬ 
ple most of the time; sometimes it is what is equilibrated for one sect apart 
from another at a certain time and sometimes for a single body at a single 
time—either long or short. So, too, some of what is intermediate and equil¬ 
ibrated with respect to actions may be what is equilibrated for all of the 
people or for most of them most or all of the time; some may be what is 
equilibrated for one sect apart from another at a certain time; and some 
is what is equilibrated for a single sect at a certain other time while some is 
what is equilibrated for a single human being at a single time. 

21. Aphorism. The one who extrapolates and infers what is intermedi¬ 
ate and equilibrated with respect to nutriments and medicaments, how¬ 
ever it occurs, is the physician. The art by which he extrapolates that is 
medicine. The one who infers what is intermediate and equilibrated with 
respect to moral habits and actions is the governor of cities and the king. 
The art by which he extrapolates that is the political art and the kingly 
craft. [40] 


[C. HOUSEHOLDS, DWELLINGS, AND CITIES] 

22. Aphorism. "City" and "household" do not mean merely the dwelling 
for the Ancients. But they do mean those whom the dwelling surrounds, 
whatever the dwellings, of whatever thing they are, and whether they are 
beneath the earth or above it—being wood, clay, wool and hair, or any of 
the other things of which the dwellings that surround people are made. 

23. Aphorism. Dwellings may engender different morals in their inhabi¬ 
tants. For example, dwellings of hair and leather in the desert engender in 
their inhabitants the states of character of alertness and resoluteness. 
Sometimes the matter intensifies to the point that courage and boldness 
are engendered. Inaccessible and fortified dwellings engender in their 
inhabitants states of character of cowardice, security, and fright. So it is 



Selected Aphorisms 23 


obligatory for the governor to keep an eye on the dwellings. Yet that is 
accidental and only for the sake of the morals of their inhabitants and as a 
means of assistance. 

24 . Aphorism. The household is joined together and made prosperous 
from definite parts and partnerships. They are four: husband and wife, 
master and slave, father and child, property-holder 20 and property. The 
one who governs these parts and partnerships, brings some into concert 
with others, and ties each to the other [41] so that from all of them there is 
a partnership with respect to actions and a mutual assistance in perfecting 
a single purpose and in completing the prosperity of the household 
through good things and preserving them for the members 21 is the lord of 
the household and its governor. He is called lord of the household and is 
in the household like the governor of the city is in the city. 

25. Aphorism. Both the city and the household have an analogy with the 
body of the human being. The body is composed of different parts of a 
definite number, some better and some baser, adjacent to one another in 
rank, each doing a certain action, so that from all of their actions they 
come together in mutual assistance to perfect the purpose of the human 
being's body. In the same way, both the city and the household are com¬ 
posed of different parts of a definite number, some baser and some better, 
adjacent to one another in a rank of different ranks, each performing on its 
own a certain action, so that from their actions they come together in 
mutual assistance to perfect the purpose of the city or the household. 
Even though the household is a part of a city and households are in the 
city, their purposes are nonetheless different. Yet there comes together 
from those different purposes, when they are perfected and brought 
together, a mutual assistance for perfecting [42] the purpose of the city. 

That, too, has an analogy with the body. Indeed, the head, chest, stom¬ 
ach, back, hands, and feet are to the body as the households of the city are to 
the city. The action of each of the large members is other than the action of 
the other, yet the parts of each of these large members mutually assist one 
another in their different actions for perfecting the purpose of that large 
member. Then, when the different purposes of the large members are 


20. Reading cjanin, for sense, rather than qunya ("acquisition"). 

21. That is, the members of the household; but the text has merely the masculine plu¬ 
ral "for them" Cataihim). 



24 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


mutually perfected, there comes together from them and from their differ¬ 
ent actions mutual assistance for perfecting the purpose of the whole body. 
The case of the households with respect to themselves and that of the 
households with respect to the city is similar. Thus it is that by coming 
together, all the parts of the city are useful to the city and are useful for con¬ 
stituting some by means of others, as it is with the members of the body. 

26. Aphorism. The physician treats each member that is ill only in accor¬ 
dance with its relationship to the whole body and to the members adja¬ 
cent to it and tied to it. He does so by giving it a treatment that provides it 
with a health by which it is useful to the whole of the body and is useful to 
the members adjacent to it and tied to it. In the same way ought the gov¬ 
ernor of the city to govern every one of the parts of the city, whether it is a 
small part such as a single human being or a large one like a single house¬ 
hold. [43] He treats it and provides it with good in relation to the whole of 
the city and to each of the rest of the parts of the city by endeavoring to 
make the good that part provides a good that does not harm the whole of 
the city or anything among the rest of its parts, but rather a good useful to 
the city in its entirety and to each of its parts in accordance with its rank of 
usefulness to the city. 

When the physician is not heedful of this, but is intent upon provid¬ 
ing one of the members with health and treats it without keeping in mind 
the condition of the rest of the members adjacent to it, or treats it by 
means of what harms the rest of the other members, he provides it with a 
health by which it performs an action that is not useful to the body in its 
entirety or to the members adjacent to it and tied to it. That makes the 
member and the members tied to it ill, and its harm is communicated to 
the rest of the members so that the body in its entirety becomes cor¬ 
rupted. So, too, the city. 

When a single member [of the body] is touched by corruption of which 
it is feared that it will be communicated to the rest of the other members 
adjacent to it, it is amputated and done away with for the sake of preserv¬ 
ing those others. So, too, when a part of the city is touched by corruption 
of which communication to others is feared, it ought to be ostracized and 
sent away for the improvement of those remaining. [44] 

27. Aphorism. It is not unknown for a human being to have the ability to 
infer what is intermediate with respect to actions and moral habits as per¬ 
tains to himself alone, just as it is not unknown for a human being to have 



Selected Aphorisms 25 


the ability to infer what is intermediate and equilibrated among the nutri¬ 
ments by which he nourishes himself alone. His doing that is a medical 
action, and he [thereby] has an ability concerning a part of the medical art. 
Similarly, the one who infers what is equilibrated among moral habits and 
actions as pertains to himself alone does that only insofar as he has an 
ability concerning a part of the political art. 

However, when the one who has the ability to infer what is equili¬ 
brated for one of his members is not heedful that what he infers be with¬ 
out harm for the rest of the parts of the body and does not set it down so 
as to be useful for the whole [body] and for its parts, his inferring that by 
means of a part of [the] medical art is corrupt. So, too, if a human being 
who has the ability to infer what is equilibrated for himself in particular 
from among the moral habits and actions does not endeavor in what he 
infers for what is useful to the city or to the rest of its parts, but pays no 
attention to that or does pay attention to it but does not keep its harmful¬ 
ness to them in mind, his inferring that by means of a part of [the] politi¬ 
cal art is corrupt. [45] 

28. Aphorism. The city may be necessary and may be virtuous. The nec¬ 
essary city is the one whose parts mutually assist one another in obtaining 
only what is necessary for a human being's constitution, subsistence, and 
preservation of life. The virtuous city is the one whose inhabitants mutu¬ 
ally assist one another in obtaining the best things for a human being's 
existence, constitution, subsistence, and preservation of life. 

One group is of the opinion that that best is the enjoyment of pleas¬ 
ures, and others are of the opinion that it is wealth. And there is a group of 
the opinion that the bringing together of both is what is best. Now 
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are of the opinion that human beings have 
two lives. One is constituted by nutriments and the rest of the external 
things we require daily for our constitution, and it is the primary life. The 
other is the one whose constitution is in its essence without having need 
of external things for constituting its essence. Rather, it is sufficient unto 
itself for maintaining [its] preservation and is the final life. 

For human beings have two perfections, a primary one and a final one. 
Indeed, the final one is attained for us in this life and in the final life 22 

22. Reading yuhsal land ft hadhiht al-haya waft al-haya al-akhtra, with the Diyarbekir, the 
Chester Beatty, and both of the University of Teheran manuscripts. Najjar, following the 
other manuscripts, adds Id ("not") and lakin ("but") so as to read yuhsal land la ft hadhihi al- 
haya wa lakin ft al-haya al-akhtra ("is attained for us not in this life but in the final life"). 



26 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


when the primary perfection in this life of ours has preceded it. Primary 
perfection [46] is that all of the actions of the virtues be done, not that a 
human being merely possess virtue without doing its actions; and that 
perfection consists in doing, not in acquiring, the states of character by 
which the actions come to be. Similarly, the perfection of the scribe is to do 
the actions of writing, not to acquire writing; and the perfection of the 
physician is to do the actions of medicine, not merely to acquire medicine. 
And so, too, with every art. 

By means of this perfection the final perfection is attained for us, and 
that is ultimate happiness, which is the good without qualification. It is 
what is preferred and yearned after for its own sake and is not—not at 
any moment at all—preferred for the sake of something else. The rest of 
what is preferred is preferred only for the sake of its usefulness for 
obtaining happiness, and each thing becomes good only when it is useful 
for obtaining happiness. And whatever obstructs from it in some way is 
an evil. 

So the virtuous city according to them is the one whose inhabitants 
mutually assist one another in obtaining the final perfection, which is ulti¬ 
mate happiness. Therefore it follows that its inhabitants, as distinct from 
[those of] the rest of the cities, are particularly those possessing virtues. 
For the city whose inhabitants are intent upon mutually assisting one 
another to obtain wealth or to enjoy pleasures do not need all of the 
virtues to obtain their goal. Rather, it might be that they need not even a 
single virtue. That is because the concord and justice they sometimes use 
among themselves are not virtue in truth; it is only something resembling 
justice and is not justice. So, too, with the rest of what they use among 
themselves in what is analogous to the virtues. [47] 

29. Aphorism. In relation to the things they encompass, actions that are 
equilibrated, intermediate, and determined ought to be useful for obtain¬ 
ing happiness—along with the rest of their stipulations. And the one who 
extrapolates them ought to set happiness before his eyes, then consider 
how he ought to determine the actions so that they emerge as useful either 
to the inhabitants of the city in their entirety or to one or another of them 
for obtaining happiness. So, too, does the physician set health before his 
eyes when he is intent upon inferring what is equilibrated with respect to 
the nutriments and medicaments by which he treats the body. 



Selected Aphorisms 27 


[d. on the king in truth] 

30. Aphorism. The king in truth is the one whose purpose and intention 
concerning the art by which he governs cities are to provide himself and 
the rest of the inhabitants of the city true happiness. This is the goal and 
the purpose of the kingly craft. It necessarily follows that the king of the 
virtuous city be the most perfect among the inhabitants of the city in hap¬ 
piness since he is the reason for their being happy. 

31. Aphorism. One group is of the opinion that the goal intended in king- 
ship and the governance of cities is majesty; honor; domination; executing 
command and prohibition; and being obeyed, made great, and magnified. 
They prefer honor for its own sake, not for any other thing they might gain 
by means of it. They set down the actions by which cities are governed as 
actions by which they arrive at this purpose, and they set down the tradi¬ 
tional laws of the city as traditional laws by which they arrive at this pur¬ 
pose through the inhabitants of the city. Some arrive at that by practicing 
virtue [48] with the inhabitants of the city, acting well toward them, bring¬ 
ing them to the good things that are good things according to the inhabi¬ 
tants of the city, preserving these for them, and giving them preference in 
these things over themselves. They gain great honor thereby, and these are 
the most virtuous among the rulers of honor. Others are of the opinion that 
they will become deserving of honor by means of wealth, and they 
endeavor to be the wealthiest inhabitants of the city and to be themselves 
unique in wealth so as to achieve honor. Some are of the opinion that they 
will be honored for descent alone. Others do that by conquering the inhab¬ 
itants of the city, dominating them, humiliating them, and terrorizing them. 

Others among the governors of cities are of the opinion that the pur¬ 
pose of governing cities is wealth. They set down as the actions by which 
they govern cities actions by which they arrive at wealth. And they set 
down traditional laws for the inhabitants of the city by means of which 
they arrive at wealth through the inhabitants of the city. If they prefer a 
certain good or do anything, they prefer it and do it only so that they 
attain wealth. It is known that there is a major difference between one 
who prefers wealth so as to be honored for it and one who prefers honor 
and to be obeyed so that he will become affluent and arrive at wealth. The 
latter are called the inhabitants of the vile rulership. 

Others among the governors of cities are of the opinion that the goal of 
governing cities is the enjoyment of pleasures. 



28 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


A group of others is of the opinion that it is all three of these brought 
together—namely, honor, wealth, and pleasures. They rule despotically 
and set [49] the inhabitants of the city down as things similar to tools for 
them to gain pleasures and wealth. 

Not one of these is called king by the Ancients. 

32. Aphorism. The king is king by means of the kingly craft, the art of 
governing cities, and the ability to use the kingly craft at any moment 
whatsoever as a rulership over a city—whether he is reputed for his art or 
not, finds the tools to use or not, finds a group who accepts him or not, is 
obeyed or not. So, too, the physician is a physician by means of the med¬ 
ical craft—whether he is recognized 23 by people for it or not, is furnished 
with the tools of his art or not, finds a group who serves him by executing 
his actions or not, comes upon sick persons who accept his statement or 
not. Nor is his medicine diminished by his not having any of these. Simi¬ 
larly, the king is king by means of the craft and the ability to use the art— 
whether he has dominion over a group or not, is honored or not, is 
wealthy or poor. 

A group of others is of the opinion that they not apply the name king 
to anyone who has the kingly craft without [50] being obeyed and hon¬ 
ored in a city. Others add wealth to that. And others are of the opinion 
to add to that dominion by conquest, humiliation, terror, and provok¬ 
ing fear. 

None of these is among the stipulations of kingship. Yet they are 
results 24 that sometimes follow the kingly craft, and it is therefore pre¬ 
sumed that they are kingship. 

[e. the intellectual virtues] 

33. Aphorism. The theoretical rational part and the calculating rational 
part each has a virtue of its own. The virtue of the theoretical part is the 
theoretical intellect, knowledge, 25 and wisdom. The virtue of the calculat¬ 
ing part is the practical intellect, prudence, discernment, excellent opin¬ 
ion, and correct presumption. 


23. The term is'ara/a; see note 5. 

24. Literally, "reasons" (astafa). 

25. The term is Tim, which can just as easily be translated as "science." However, here, 
in aphorisms 34-37, and in aphorism 52, Alfarabi seems to be using ’ilm in the sense of 
"knowledge," and its plural, 'alum, in the sense of "sciences." 



Selected Aphorisms 29 


34. Aphorism. The theoretical intellect is the faculty by which we attain, 
by nature and not by examination or syllogistic reasoning, certain knowl¬ 
edge concerning the necessary, universal premises that are the principles 
of the sciences. That is like our knowing that the whole is greater than its 
part, that amounts equal [51] to a single amount are mutually equal, and 
premises resembling these. These are the ones from which we begin and 
come to knowledge of the rest of the theoretical beings that are such as to 
exist without human artifice. This intellect may be potential as long as it 
has not attained these first [things]. When it attains them, it becomes an 
intellect in act and of a powerful disposition for inferring what remains. 
With respect to what it attains, it is not possible that error befall this fac¬ 
ulty; indeed, it is not possible for anything pertaining to the sciences to 
befall it other than what is certainly accurate. 

35. Aphorism. The name "knowledge" applies to many things. How¬ 
ever, the knowledge that is a virtue of the theoretical part is for the soul to 
attain certainty about the existence of the beings whose existence and con¬ 
stitution owe nothing at all to human artifice, as well as about what each 
one is and how it is, from demonstrations composed of accurate, neces¬ 
sary, universal, and primary premises of which the intellect becomes cer¬ 
tain and attains knowledge by nature. 

This knowledge is of two sorts. One is becoming certain of a thing's 
existence, the reason for its existence, and of it not being possible for it to 
be anything else at all—not it nor [52] its reason. The second is becoming 
certain of its existence and of it not being possible for it to be anything 
else, but without seizing upon the reason for its existence. 

36. Aphorism. Knowledge in truth is what is accurate and certain for all 
time, not for some [particular time] but not some other, nor existing at one 
moment and possibly becoming nonexistent afterwards. For if we are cog¬ 
nizant of something existing now and when time passes it is possible for it 
to be abolished, we are not aware of whether it exists or not. So our cer¬ 
tainty comes back as doubt and falsehood, and what can possibly be false 
is neither knowledge nor certainty. 

Therefore, the Ancients did not set down as knowledge the perception 
of what can possibly change from condition to condition, such as our 
knowing that this human being is sitting now. For it is possible for him to 
change and come to be standing after he was sitting. Rather, they set 
down as knowledge the certainty about the existence of a thing that can- 



30 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


not possibly change, such as three being an odd number. For the oddness 
of three does not change. That is because three does not become even at 
some point nor four odd. So if this is called knowledge or certainty, it is 
done so metaphorically. 

37. Aphorism. Wisdom is knowledge of the remote reasons by which all 
the rest of the beings exist and of the existence of the proximate reasons 
for the things that have reasons. That is, we become certain [53] of their 
existence. We know what they are and how they are. And [we know] that 
even if they are many, they ascend in rank to a single being which is the 
reason for the existence of those remote things and the proximate things 
subordinate to them. And [we know] that that single [being] is the first in 
truth. It is constituted not by the existence of any other thing, but is in its 
essence so sufficient as not to procure existence from something else. And 
[we know] that it is not at all possible for it to be a body nor in a body. 
And [we know] that its existence is another existence, one external from 
the rest of the beings and not sharing with a single one of them in any 
meaning at all. Rather, if it shares, it is in name alone and not in the mean¬ 
ing understood from that name. And [we know] that it is not possible for 
it to be except as one alone. And [we know] that it is the one in truth. It is 
what provides all the rest of the beings the unity by which we come to say 
of every existing thing that it is one. And [we know] that it is the true first, 
the one providing truth to other than it, and is so sufficient in its truth as 
not to procure truth from something else. And [we know] that it is not 
possible to fancy a perfection greater than its perfection, much less for it to 
exist; nor an existence more complete than its existence, a truth larger than 
its truth, or a unity more complete than its unity. 

In addition, we know how the rest of the beings procure existence, truth, 
and unity from it; what the portion of each one [54] of them is in existence, 
truth, and unity; how the rest of the things procure thingness from it; and 
that it makes known 26 the ranks of all the beings—some being first, some 
intermediary, and some last. The last have reasons that are not reasons for 
anything subordinate to them. The intermediate are the ones that have a rea¬ 
son over them and are reasons for things subordinate to them. The first is a 
reason for what is subordinate while having no other reason over it. 


26. Reading wa an yu'allim, with the Diyarbekir and Feyzullah manuscripts, rather 
than wa an nu'allim ("and that we make known"), with Najjar and the Chester Beatty as 
well as the Bodleian manuscripts. 



Selected Aphorisms 31 


In addition, we know how the last ascend to the intermediate, how 
some of the intermediate ascend to others until they end up at the first, 
and then how governing begins with the first and extends through each 
one of the rest of the beings in order until it ends up at the last beings. 

So this is wisdom in truth. This name is used metaphorically so that 
those who are very skillful and become perfect in the arts are called the 
wise. 

38. Aphorism. Practical intellect is the faculty by which a human 
being—through much experience in matters and long observation of 
sense-perceptible things—attains premises by which he is able to seize 
upon what he ought to prefer or avoid with respect to each one of the mat¬ 
ters we are to do. Some of these premises are universal, and matters we 
ought to prefer or avoid are enveloped in each one. [55] Some are isolated 
and particular; they are used as examples for what a human being wants 
to seize upon of matters he has not observed. 

This intellect remains a potential intellect only as long as experience 
has not been attained. When experiences have been attained and pre¬ 
served, it becomes an intellect in act. And this intellect that is in act 
increases along with the increase in experiences with each of the years of a 
human being's life. 

39. Aphorism. Prudence is the ability for excellent deliberation and 
inference concerning the things that are better and more appropriate for a 
human being to do to attain a truly major good and a virtuous, venerable 
goal—whether that be happiness or something of major value for gaining 
happiness. 

Cleverness is the ability for excellent inference concerning what is 
more virtuous and appropriate for obtaining certain slight goods. 

Cunning is the ability for sound deliberation in inferring what is more 
appropriate and better in order to complete something major [56] with 
respect to what is presumed to be a good—that is, affluence, pleasure, or 
honor. 

Fraudulence, deception, and deceitfulness concern excellently infer¬ 
ring what is more intense and better for completing some base deed pre¬ 
sumed to be a good—that is, base profit or base pleasure. 

All of these are things that merely lead to the goal, but are not the goal. 
So, too, every deliberation. For a human being merely sets the goal for 
which he has a passion and longing in his calculation; then, afterwards, he 



32 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


deliberates about the things by means of which he may gain that goal— 
how many they are, what they are, and how they are. 

40. Aphorism. Body and soul each have pleasures and pains. The pleas¬ 
ures of each are congruous and suitable things, while the pains are con¬ 
flicting and adverse things. Pleasures and pains are each either essential 
or accidental. Essential pleasure is experiencing something congruous, 
and accidental pleasure is losing a conflicting pain. Essential pain is expe¬ 
riencing what is incompatible, and accidental pain is losing a congruous 
pleasure. 

41. Aphorism. Because of the corruption of their sense-perception and of 
their imagination, those who have sick bodies imagine what is sweet to be 
bitter and what is bitter to be sweet. They form a concept of the suitable as 
being [57] unsuitable and a concept of the unsuitable as being suitable. Sim¬ 
ilarly, because those who are evil and who possess defects have sick souls, 
they imagine that evils are good things and that good things are evils. 

Now the one who is virtuous in the moral virtues always has a passion 
and longing only for goals that are good things in truth, and he sets them 
down as his purpose and intention. The one who is evil always has a pas¬ 
sion for goals that are evils in truth. And because of the sickness of his 
soul, he imagines them to be good things. 

It follows therefore that the prudent person is virtuous in the moral 
virtues and, similarly, the clever person, whereas cunning and fraudulent 
persons are evil and possess defects. So it comes about that the prudent 
person verifies the goal by means of the virtue he has and verifies what 
leads to the goal by means of excellent deliberation. 

42. Aphorism. There are many kinds of prudence. Among them is excel¬ 
lent deliberation for governing the affairs of the household—namely, 
household prudence. And among them is excellent deliberation for the 
more serious of that by which the city is governed—namely, political pru¬ 
dence. And among them is excellent deliberation with respect to what is 
better and more appropriate for obtaining an excellent livelihood and in 
gaining human goods [58] like wealth, majesty, and other things that in 
addition to being good are valuable for gaining happiness. Among these 
is what is advisory, namely, the one that infers what a human being does 
not use for himself but in order to advise someone else about it—either for 
governing a household, a city, or something else. And among them is 



Selected Aphorisms 33 


what is adversarial, namely, the ability to infer a virtuous, sound opinion 
by which to combat the enemy and the opponent in general or by which 
to repulse him. 

It is likely that for everything a human being is preoccupied with, he 
needs some part of prudence—either a slight or great [amount], in accor¬ 
dance with the matter he is pursuing. If it is great or major, he will need a 
more powerful and more complete prudence. And if it is minor or slight, 
a slight [amount of] prudence will be sufficient. 

Prudence is what the public calls intellect. And when this faculty is in 
a human being, he is called intelligent. 

43. Aphorism. Correct presumption is that whenever a human being 
observes a matter, he—by means of his presumption—always lights upon 
what is so correct that the matter could not possibly be otherwise. 

44. Aphorism. Discernment is the ability to light upon the correct judg¬ 
ment with respect to recondite opinions that are disputed [59] and the 
power to verify it. So it is excellently inferring what is sound in opinions 
and is, therefore, one of the kinds of prudence. 

45. Aphorism. Excellent opinion is for a human being to possess opinion, 
or to be excellent in opinion, and to be a human being who is virtuous and 
good in his actions, then for his statements, opinions, and admonitions to 
have been tested many times and to have been found pertinent and 
upright. And when the human being uses them, he ends up at praisewor¬ 
thy outcomes. Therefore, his speech has come to be accepted—that is, 
because of the accuracy frequently observed with respect to him—so that 
the virtue or pertinent judgment and advice he is reputed for exempt him 
from needing a proof or sign for something he says or advises. It is evident 
that in verifying an opinion and seizing upon what is correct in it, he seizes 
and verifies only by means of prudence. This, then, is a kind of prudence. 

46. Aphorism. There are two roots one who is deliberating uses to infer 
the thing he is deliberating about. One is the generally accepted things 
taken from all or most people. [60] The second is the things attained by 
experience and observation. 

47. Aphorism. The simple person is someone who has an unimpaired 
imaginative grasp of what is generally accepted concerning what is to be 



34 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


preferred or avoided, except that he has no experience of the practical 
affairs of which one becomes cognizant through experience. A human 
being may be simple with respect to one sort of affairs and not simple 
with respect to another sort. 

48. Aphorism. The mad person is one who, with respect to what is to be 
preferred or avoided, always imagines the contraries of the generally 
accepted things and the contraries of what is customary. In addition, it 
sometimes happens that he imagines the contrary of what is generally 
accepted about the rest of the matters found in much of what is perceived 
by the senses. 

49. Aphorism. Stupidity is when someone's imaginative grasp of gener¬ 
ally accepted things is unimpaired and he has preserved experiences. His 
imaginative grasp of the goals he has a passion and longing for is unim¬ 
paired, and he deliberates. But his deliberation inevitably makes him 
imagine that what does not lead to that [particular] goal does lead to it, 
[61] or it makes him imagine that what leads to the contrary of that goal 
leads to it. 27 So his action and advice are in accordance with what his cor¬ 
rupt deliberation makes him imagine. Therefore, when first observed, the 
stupid person has the form of an intelligent person, and his intention is a 
sound intention. Frequently, his deliberation lands him in evil, even 
though he was not aiming to fall into it. 

50. Aphorism. Quick-wittedness is excellence in surmising something 
quickly in no time or in time not delayed. 

51. Aphorism. Prudence and cleverness each have need of a natural dis¬ 
position with which a human being is endowed. When a human being is 
endowed with a disposition for complete prudence and then becomes 
accustomed to vices, he is altered and changes. Thus instead of having 
prudence, he comes to have cunning, deceitfulness, and trickery. 

52. Aphorism. A group of people calls the prudent wise. Wisdom is the 
most excellent knowledge of the most excellent beings. Yet since only 
human things are perceived by means of prudence, it ought not to be wis- 


27. That is, that it leads to the goal in question. 



Selected Aphorisms 35 


dom unless human beings are the most excellent of what is in the world 
and the most excellent of the beings. Since human beings are not like that, 
[62] prudence is wisdom only metaphorically and as a simile. 

53. Aphorism. It is particularly characteristic of wisdom that it knows 
the ultimate reasons for every ultimate being. 28 And the ultimate goal for 
the sake of which the human being comes about is happiness, the goal 
being one of the reasons. Therefore, wisdom is what seizes upon the thing 
that is truly happiness. 

Moreover, it is wisdom alone that knows the first one—that from 
which the rest of the beings procure virtue and perfection. And it knows 
how that is procured from it and the extent of the portion of perfection 
each one gains. Now the human being is one of the beings that procure 
perfection from the first one. Therefore, it knows the greatest perfection 
that the human being procures from the first—namely, happiness. 

Wisdom, therefore, is what seizes upon happiness in truth, whereas 
prudence is what seizes upon what ought to be done so that happiness is 
attained. These two, therefore, are the two mutual assistants in perfecting 
the human being—wisdom being what gives the ultimate goal, and pru¬ 
dence being what gives the means by which that goal is gained. 

54. Aphorism. Rhetoric is the ability to speak to others by means of 
statements that are excellent in persuading about each and every one of 
the possible matters that are such as to be preferred [63] or avoided. 
However, the virtuous practitioners of this faculty use it with respect to 
good things, while those who are cunning use it with respect to evil 
ones. 

55. Aphorism. Excellence in imaginative evocations 29 is other than 
excellence in persuasion. The difference between the two is that what is 


28. See aphorism 37. There, Alfarabi says that wisdom leads us to know "the one in 
truth . . . and that it makes known the ranks of all the beings—some being first, some inter¬ 
mediary, and some last." The term translated there as "last" is akhir, whereas the term 
translated here as "ultimate" is muta’akhkhir. 

29. The term is takhyil and is the verbal noun ( masdar ) of khayyala. Heretofore Alfarabi 
has used the verb khayyala in conjunction with its reflexive form ( takhayyala ) in contexts 
that permitted it to be translated as "to imagine" or "to make imagine." Now, however, the 
sense is that the imagination causes an image to come about in a person's mind, that is, to 
be evoked. 



36 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


intended by excellence in persuasion is for the hearer to do something 
after assenting to it. What is intended by excellence in imaginative evoca¬ 
tion is to inspire the soul of the hearer to seek or to flee the thing imagi¬ 
natively evoked, or to have an inclination to or loathing for it, even if he 
has not assented to it. This is like a human being feeling disgust when he 
sees something that resembles what is such as to be truly disgusting, 
even if he is certain that what he sees is not the thing that is disgusting. 

Excellence in imaginative evocation is used with respect to what 
annoys and contents, with respect to what frightens and assures, with 
respect to what softens the soul, with respect to what hardens it, and 
with respect to the rest of the accidents of the soul. What is intended by 
excellence in imaginative evocation is that a human being be moved [64] 
to accept something and be inspired toward it, even if what he knows 
about the thing requires the converse of what is imaginatively evoked. 
Many people love or detest something, or prefer or avoid it, only due to 
imaginative evocation, to the exclusion of deliberation, either because 
they naturally have no deliberation or because they have rejected it in 
their affairs. 

56. Aphorism. All poems are brought forth only to make excellent the 
imaginative evocation of something, and they are of six sorts. Three are 
praiseworthy and three blameworthy. 

Of the three that are praiseworthy, one is intent upon improving the 
rational faculty, directing its actions and calculation toward happiness, 
making an imaginative evocation of divine matters and good things, mak¬ 
ing an excellent imaginative evocation of the virtues while presenting 
them favorably and treating them with respect, and presenting evil things 
and defects as base and vile. 

The second is intent upon improving and equilibrating those accidents 
of the soul related to power and breaking them down until they come to 
equilibrium and are brought back from the extreme. These are the acci¬ 
dents like anger, self-conceit, harshness, arrogance, impertinence, love of 
honor, tyranny, avidity, and similar things. And it directs its practitioners 
to use them [65] for good things to the exclusion of evil ones. 

The third is intent upon improving and equilibrating those accidents 
of the soul related to weakness and softness, namely, the base yearnings 
and pleasures, delicateness and slackness of soul, compassion, fear, fright, 
distress, bashfulness, indulgence, softness, and similar things. [It is intent] 



Selected Aphorisms 37 


upon breaking [them down] and bringing them back from the extreme 
until they come to equilibrium. And it directs to their being used for good 
things to the exclusion of evil ones. 

The three blameworthy ones are the contraries of the three praisewor¬ 
thy ones. For the former corrupt everything the latter improve and draw it 
away from being equilibrated to the extreme. The sorts of melodies and 
songs following from these sorts of poems and their divisions are equiva¬ 
lent to their divisions. 

[f. the virtuous city] 

57. Aphorism. There are five parts of the virtuous city: the virtuous, the 
linguists, the assessors, the warriors, and the moneymakers. The virtuous 
are the wise, the prudent, and those who have opinions about major mat¬ 
ters. Then there are the transmitters of the creed and the linguists; they are 
the rhetoricians, the eloquent, the poets, the musicians, the scribes, and 
those who act in the same way as they do and are among their number. 
The assessors are the accountants, the engineers, the doctors, the 
astronomers, and those who act in the same way as they do. The warriors 
are the combatants, the guardians, and those who act in the same way as 
they do and are counted among them. The moneymakers are those who 
earn money [66] in the city, like the farmers, herders, merchants, and 
those who act in the same way as they do. 

58. Aphorism. The rulers and governors of this city are of four sorts. 

One is the king in truth; he is the supreme ruler and the one in whom 

six stipulations come together: wisdom, complete prudence, excellent per¬ 
suasion, excellent imaginative evocation, bodily capability for struggle, 
and having nothing in his body that prevents him from carrying out the 
things pertaining to struggle. One in whom all of these qualities come 
together is the model, someone to be copied in his ways of life and his 
actions, someone whose declarations and counsels are to be accepted, and 
one who may govern as he thinks and wishes. 

The second is for no human being to exist in whom all of these have 
come together. But they do exist dispersed among a group so that one of 
them gives the goal, the second gives what leads to the goal, the third has 
excellent persuasion and excellent imaginative evocation, and another the 
capability for struggle. So this group all together takes the place of the 



38 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


king, and they are called superior rulers and the possessors of virtues. 30 
Their rulership is called the rulership of the virtuous. [67] 

The third is for these not to exist either, so the ruler of the city is then 
the one in whom [the following] exist together: [a] that he is knowl¬ 
edgeable of the preceding divine and traditional laws 31 the first leaders 
brought forth to govern cities; [b] then, that he is excellent at distin¬ 
guishing the places and conditions in which one ought to apply those 
traditional laws in accordance with the intention of the first [leaders]; 
[c] then, that he has the capability to infer what was not explicitly 
declared in the previous traditional laws that were preserved and writ¬ 
ten down, following in the traces of the prior traditional laws in what 
he infers; [d] then, that he has excellent opinion and prudence with 
respect to the events that occur one by one and, not being such as to 
have come about in the previous ways of life, are such as to preserve 
the prosperity of the city; [e] that he is excellent in persuasion and 
imaginative evocation; [f] and that he has, in addition, the capability for 
struggle. This one is called the traditional king and his rulership is 
called traditional kingship. 

The fourth is for no single human being to exist in whom all of these 
come together; yet they are dispersed among a group. So altogether they 
take the place of the traditional king, and these as a group are called tradi¬ 
tional rulers. 

59. Aphorism. In each of the parts of the city there is a ruler who has 
none of the inhabitants of that section over him as a ruler, a person ruled 
who has no rulership over any human being at all, and someone who is a 
ruler over those beneath him while being ruled by those above him. 

60. Aphorism. Some ranks in the virtuous city have priority over others 
in [different] ways. [68] 

[a] Among them is that if a human being has performed a deed in 
order to obtain a certain goal and has used a certain thing that is the goal 
of an action another human being carries out, the first is the ruler and has 
priority over the second in rank. Horsemanship is like that. Its goal is the 


30. Reading al-fadd’il, with the Chester Beatty and Feyzullah manuscripts, rather than 
al-fadl ("surplus" or "superfluity"), with Najjar and the Bodleian as well as the Diyarbekir 
manuscripts, or al-fadila {"virtue"), with both of the University of Teheran manuscripts. 

31. The terms are al-shara’i’ (sing. sharT'a) and sunan (sing, sunna). 



Selected Aphorisms 39 


excellent use of weapons. So the horseman, who uses the reins and the 
implements of the horse that are the goal of the art of making the reins, is 
a ruler who has priority over the one who makes the reins and, similarly, 
over the trainer of the horse. And it is like that in the rest of the accom¬ 
plishments and arts. 

[b] And among them is for there to be two whose goal is one in itself. 
One of the two is more complete in imaginatively evoking that goal, more 
perfectly virtuous, possessing prudence by which he infers everything for 
arriving at that goal, and finely prepared so as to use someone else to 
attain the goal. This one is a ruler over the second who does not have that. 

Subordinate to this one is someone who imagines the goal by himself, 
but does not have perfect deliberation for carrying out everything by which 
he gains the goal. Yet if he is given the starting point 32 of deliberation by 
some of what he wants to do being sketched out for him, he takes what is 
given [69] as a pattern for what is sketched out and infers what remains. 

Subordinate to this one is someone who neither imagines the goal by 
himself nor has any deliberation. But when he is given the goal, with it 
being imaginatively evoked for him, and is then given the starting point 
of deliberation, he is able to take what has been sketched out for him as a 
pattern for what remains and to do it or to use another for it. 

Subordinate to this one is someone who does not imagine the goal, has 
no deliberation, and is not able—even when given the starting point of 
deliberation—to infer the remaining. Yet if he is counseled concerning all 
he ought to do to obtain that goal, he remembers the counsel and is so 
pusillanimous and submissive as to rush to do all that he is counseled. If 
he does not know the goal at which that action might culminate, yet is 
finely prepared to do the thing he is counseled, this one is always a ser¬ 
vant of the city and not a ruler; rather, he is a slave by nature. 

Now those are the ones who are ruled and who are rulers. Everything 
the slave and servant are skilled in doing, the ruler ought to be skilled in 
using someone else to do. 

[c] The third [rank] is for there to be two persons, each one of whom 
performs an action, with a third person using their two actions to com¬ 
plete a certain goal. However, one of the two does something that is more 
venerable and of greater value for [70] completing the goal of the third. So 
the one whose action is more venerable and of greater value has priority 


32. The term here and in the rest of this aphorism is mabda; in aphorism 34 it was 
translated as "principle," and in the next aphorism, it is translated as "beginning." 



40 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


of rank over the one who carries out an action that is viler and of less 
value with respect to that goal. 

61. Aphorism. Some of the parts and ranks of the parts of the city are in 
concert with others. They are bound by love, and they hold together and 
stay preserved through justice and the actions of justice. Love may come 
about by nature, like the love of parents for the child. And it may come 
about by volition in that its starting point is voluntary things followed by 
love. That which is by volition is threefold: one is by sharing in virtue; the 
second is for the sake of what is useful; and the third is for the sake of 
pleasure. Justice follows upon love. 

In this city, love first comes about for the sake of sharing in virtue, and 
that is connected with sharing in opinions and actions. The opinions 
they 33 ought to share in are about three things: the beginning, the end, and 
what is between the two. Agreement of opinion about the beginning is 
agreement of their opinions about God, may He be exalted, about the spir¬ 
itual beings, and about the devout who are the standard; how the world 
and its parts began; how human beings began to come about; then the 
ranks of the parts of the world, the link of some to others, and their level 
with respect to God—may He be exalted—and to the spiritual beings; 
then the level [71] of human beings with respect to God and to the spiri¬ 
tual beings. So this is the beginning. The end is happiness. What is 
between the two is the actions through which happiness is gained. 

When the opinions of the inhabitants of the city are in agreement 
about these things and that is then perfected by the actions through which 
happiness is gained for some with others, that is necessarily followed by 
the love of some for others. Because they are neighbors of one another in 
one dwelling and some of them need others while some of them are use¬ 
ful to others, that is also followed by the love that comes about for the 
sake of the useful. Then, due to their sharing in the virtues and because 
some of them are useful to others, some take pleasure in others. So that is 
also followed by the love that comes about for the sake of pleasure. So by 
this they are in concert and bound. 

62. Aphorism. Justice first has to do with dividing the shared goods that 
belong to the inhabitants of the city among them all. Then, after that, [it 


33. That is, the citizens, the verb being in the third-person masculine plural (on 
yashtariku). 



Selected Aphorisms 41 


has to do] with preserving what has been divided among them. Those 
goods are security, monies, honor, ranks, and the rest of the goods it is 
possible for them to share in. Indeed, each one of the inhabitants of the city 
has a portion of these goods equivalent to what he deserves. His falling 
short of that or exceeding it is injustice. His falling short is an injustice 
upon himself, and his exceeding is an injustice upon the inhabitants of the 
city. And perhaps his falling short is also an injustice upon [72] the inhabi¬ 
tants of the city. 

When they [the goods] have been divided and a portion settled upon 
each one, the portion of each one of those [persons] ought afterward to be 
preserved. Either it is not to go out of his hand or it is to go out through stip¬ 
ulations and conditions such that no harm touches him or the city from 
some of his portion going out of his hand. A human being's portion of 
goods goes out of his hand either by his volition—as with selling, donating, 
and lending—or not by his volition—as with robbery or usurpation. In each 
of these two instances, there ought to be stipulations by which the goods of 
the city remain preserved for the people. 34 

That comes about only by returning, in place of what voluntarily or 
involuntarily went out of his hand, a good equivalent to that which went 
out of his hand—either of the [same] kind as what went out of his hand or 
of another kind. And what is returned is either returned to him personally 
or to the city. To whichever of the two the equivalent is returned, [73] justice 
is that the divided goods remain preserved for the inhabitants of the city. 
And injustice is for someone's portion of the goods to go out of his hand 
without its equivalent being returned to him or to the inhabitants of the city. 
Further, what is returned to him personally ought either to be useful to the 
city or not harmful to it. 

When the one causing a portion of the goods to go out of his own 
hand or out of the hand of another harms the city, he is also unjust and 
is [to be] prevented. To prevent many, there is need to inflict evils and 
punishments. The evils and punishments ought to be measured so that 
for each injustice there is an apposite measured punishment prescribed 
as an equivalent for it. So, when the evildoer gets a portion of evil, that is 
justice. When it is excessive, that is an injustice upon him personally; 
and when it falls short, that is an injustice upon the inhabitants of the 
city. And perhaps being excessive is an injustice upon the inhabitants of 
the city. 


34. Literally, "for them" (' alaihim ). 



42 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


63. Aphorism. Some governors of cities are of the opinion that every 
injustice occurring in the city is an injustice upon the inhabitants of the 
city. Some of them are of the opinion that it is an injustice particular to 
that one alone to whom the injustice has occurred. And some of them 
divide injustice into two sorts. One sort is an injustice particular [74] to 
individual persons; yet they nonetheless set it down as an injustice upon 
the inhabitants of the city. And there is a sort they set down as an injustice 
particular to a single person, 35 but not extending beyond him to the city. 

Therefore, a group of governors of cities is not of the opinion that the 
criminal is to be excused, even if he is excused by the one to whom the 
injustice has occurred. Some of them are of the opinion that the criminal is 
to be excused when he is excused by the one to whom the injustice has 
occurred. And some of them are of the opinion that some are to be 
excused and some not excused. That is, when the evil a criminal merits is 
set down as a right particular to the one to whom the injustice has 
occurred, disregarding the inhabitants of the city, and that human being 
has excused him, no one else is to have access to him. When that is set 
down as a right of the inhabitants of the city or of all people, no account is 
taken of excusing by the one to whom the injustice has occurred. 

64. Aphorism. Justice may be spoken of in another, more general, 
way 36 —namely, a human being practicing acts of virtue, any virtue what¬ 
ever, with respect to what is between him and someone else. The justice 
having to do with dividing and the one having to do with preserving 
what has been divided is a species of the more general justice, and the 
more particular is called by the name of the more general. 

65. Aphorism. Each one in the virtuous city ought to be assigned [75] a 
single art to which he devotes himself and a single work he undertakes, 
either in the rank of servitude or in the rank of rulership, but not extend¬ 
ing beyond it. For three reasons, not one of them is to be left to pursue 
many works nor more than a single art. One is that it does not always 
happen that every human being is suited for every work and for every 
art; rather, one human being may be found to be suited for one work as 
distinct from another human being for another work. The second is that 


35. Literally, "particular to him" ( yakhussuh). 

36. Literally, "species" or "kind" ( naw '). 



Selected Aphorisms 43 


in undertaking a work or an art, every human being does it more per¬ 
fectly and more virtuously and becomes more skilled and wiser in work 
when he devotes himself to it, is raised in it from his youth on, and does 
not busy himself with anything other than it. The third is that for many 
works there are [particular] times; when they are delayed, they slip 
away. It may happen that there are two works that are due at a single 
time. If he busies himself with one of them, the [time for the] other slips 
away; nor is it caught up with at a subsequent time. Therefore a single 
human being ought to be devoted to each of the two works so that each 
of the two works is caught up with at its time and does not slip away. [76] 

66. Aphorism. The city's reserve 37 is the monies set aside for the classes 
who do not usually earn money. According to the opinion of all governors 
of cities, those who are such and for whom monies are set aside first of all 
and as a first intention are the divisions of the city whose crafts do not 
have as primarily intended goals the earning of monies—like the trans¬ 
mitters of the creed, the scribes, the physicians, and their like. For these 
are among the major parts of the city and have need of monies. 

According to the opinion of a group of governors of cities, [they also 
include] the chronically ill and those who do not have the stamina to earn 
monies. And a group is of the opinion that no one is to be left in the city 
who is unable in any way to undertake any of the actions useful to it. 

A group of governors of cities is of the opinion that they should set up 
two reserves of monies in the city: a reserve for those whose crafts do not 
have as primarily intended goals the earning of monies and a reserve for 
the chronically ill and those who are in the same situation. So where it 
ought to be taken from and in what ways must be looked into. 

67. Aphorism. War is [a] for repulsing an enemy coming upon the city 
from outside. Or it is [b] for earning a good the city deserves from outside, 
from one in whose hand it is. Or it is [c] for carrying and forcing a certain 
group to what is best and most fortunate for them in themselves, as dis¬ 
tinct from others, when they have not been cognizant of it on their own 
and have not submitted to someone who is cognizant of it [77] and calls 
them to it by speech. Or it is [d] warring against those who do not submit 


37. The term is 'udda and refers to apparatus or equipment, as well as to what one sets 
aside as provision against misfortune. 



44 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


to slavery and servitude, it being best for them and most fortunate that 
their rank in the world be to serve and to be slaves. Or it is [e] warring 
against a group not of the inhabitants of the city against whom they have 
a right, but they withhold it. And this is something shared with two [of 
the preceding] concerns: [one is] earning a good for the city and the other 
is that they be carried to give justice and equity. 

Now [f] warring against them in order to punish them for a crime they 
perpetrated—lest they revert to something like it and lest others venture 
against the city in emulation of them—falls in general under earning a cer¬ 
tain good for the inhabitants of the city, bringing that other people back to 
their own allotments and to what is most proper for them, and repulsing 
an enemy by force. And [g] warring against them to annihilate them in 
their entirety and to root them out thoroughly because their survival is a 
harm for the inhabitants of the city is also earning a good for the inhabi¬ 
tants of the city. 

Unjust war is [a] for a ruler to war against a people only to humiliate 
them, make them submissive, and have them honor him for nothing other 
than extending his command among them and having them obey him; or 
[b] only to have them honor him for nothing other than having them 
honor him; or [c] to rule them and govern their affairs as he sees fit and 
have them comply with what he knows of what he has a passion for, 
whatever it is. Similarly, [d] if he wages war in order to tyrannize—not for 
anything other than setting tyranny down as the goal—then that is also 
unjust war. 

Similarly, [e] if he wages war or kills only to satisfy a fury or for a 
pleasure he will gain when he triumphs—not for anything other than 
that—then that is also unjust. Similarly, [f] if those people have made him 
furious through an injustice and what they deserve because of that injus¬ 
tice is less than warfare and killing, then warfare and killing are unjust 
without doubt. [78] Many of those who intend to satisfy their fury by 
killing do not kill those who made them furious, but kill others who have 
not made them furious. The reason is that they intend to remove the pain 
that comes from the fury. 

[g. the divisions of being and the status of 
happiness: sound vs. erroneous opinions] 

68. Aphorism. The first divisions are three: what cannot possibly not 
exist, what cannot possibly exist, and what can possibly exist and not 



Selected Aphorisms 45 


exist. The first two are extremes, and the third is intermediate between 
them. It is an aggregate that requires the two extremes. All existing things 
fall under two of these three [divisions]. For some beings cannot possibly 
not exist, and some can possibly exist and not exist. 

69. Aphorism. What cannot possibly not exist is such in its substance 
and nature. And what can possibly exist and not exist is also such in its 
substance and nature. For it is not possible that what cannot possibly not 
exist becomes like that due to its substance and its nature being otherwise 
and its happening to become like that. So, too, with what can possibly 
exist and not exist. 

There are three genera of existing things: those devoid of matter, celes¬ 
tial bodies, and material bodies. 38 What cannot possibly not exist is of two 
types: for one, it is in its nature and its substance to exist at a [certain] 
moment, anything else not being possible for it; the second is what cannot 
possibly not exist at any time whatsoever. The spiritual are of the second 
of the sorts that cannot possibly not exist and the celestial of the first, 
while the material 39 are of the division of what can possibly exist and not 
exist. 

There are three worlds: spiritual, celestial, and material. 

70. Aphorism. The first divisions are four: what cannot possibly not 
exist at all, what cannot possibly exist at all, what cannot possibly 
not exist at a certain moment, and what can possibly exist [79] and not 
exist. The existence of what cannot possibly not exist at a certain 
moment is also possible at a certain 40 moment. So the first two are oppo¬ 
site extremes, whereas it is possible for what can possibly exist not to 
exist. 

71. Aphorism. Existent things are of these three divisions: what cannot 
possibly not exist at all, what cannot possibly not exist at a certain 


38. The term is al-ajsam al-hayulaniyya and thus might be more literally rendered as 
"bodies of primordial matter"; in the rest of the aphorism, "material" is used to translate 
al-hayiilaniyya or hayulaniyya. 

39. In each instance, only the feminine adjective with the definite article is used ( al- 
ruhaniyya, al-samawiyya, and al-hayulaniyya); the two likely antecedents are bodies (.al- 
ajsam) or existing things (al-mawjiidat). 

40. Adding mfl, with the Chester Beatty manuscript. 



46 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


moment and exist at a certain moment, 41 and what can possibly exist and 
not exist. The most virtuous, most venerable, and most perfect of them is 
what cannot possibly not exist at all. The vilest and most defective is what 
can possibly exist and not exist. That which cannot possibly not exist only 
at a certain moment is intermediate between the two, for it is more defec¬ 
tive than the first and more perfect than the third. 

What can possibly exist and not exist is of three types: for the most 
[part], for the least [part], and equally. The most virtuous of them is that 
which comes about for the most [part]; the vilest of them is that which 
comes about for the least [part]; and that which is equal is intermediate 
between them. 

72. Aphorism. That something admits of privation is a defect in its exis¬ 
tence. That it needs something else for its existence is also a defect in exis¬ 
tence. Whatever has something similar to it in its species is also defective 
in existence. For that comes about only [a] with respect to what is not suf¬ 
ficient to have its own unique species and [b] with respect to what does 
not suffice to complete that [species's] existence alone—such that only a 
portion of that existence comes to be completed by it and it is not suffi¬ 
cient for completing all of it, as with the human being. For since it is not 
possible to attain human existence by means of a single person, more than 
one is needed at one time. Thus, whatever is sufficient for completing a 
certain thing has no need of there being a second with respect to that 
thing. [80] If something suffices to complete its existence, whatness, and 
substance, it is not possible for there to be anything else of its species. And 
if that were with respect to its action, nothing else would share in it[s 
action]. 42 

73. Aphorism. Whatever has a contrary is defective in existence. For 
whatever has a contrary has privation—this being the meaning of con- 


41. For "certain," see the preceding note. Stated in this fashion, and the text appears to 
be consistent, the clause points to non-existence: "what cannot possibly . . . exist at a cer¬ 
tain moment." Though the full statement of the preceding aphorism does admit of such an 
interpretation, the more immediate sense is that Alfarabi is expressing the idea, albeit 
obscurely, that "the existence of what cannot possibly not exist at a certain moment is also 
possible at a certain moment." The phrase also points, again obscurely, to the principle of 
the excluded middle. 

42. Alfarabi seems to be suggesting here that insofar as human beings need to cooper¬ 
ate with one another and to make use of other beings to obtain or acquire the necessities of 
life, not to mention the virtues, they are not self-sufficient. 



Selected Aphorisms 47 


traries, namely, that each one of them nullifies the other when they meet 
or come together. That is because for its existence it depends upon the 
extinction of its contrary. Moreover, there is an impediment to its exis¬ 
tence; thus, it does not suffice simply by itself for its existence. So what 
does not have privation does not have a contrary, and what has no need at 
all of anything other than its essence has no contrary. 

74. Aphorism. Evil does not exist at all, not in anything of these worlds 
and, in general, in that whose existence is not at all due to human volition. 
Rather, all of that is good. That is because evil is of two types. One is the 
misery opposite to happiness. And the second is everything such that 
misery is obtained by means of it. Misery is evil in that it is the goal one 
comes to without there being beyond that a greater evil to which one 
comes by means of misery. The second is the voluntary actions such as to 
lead to misery. 

Similarly, opposite to these two evils are two goods. One is happiness, 
and it is a good in that it is the goal without there being any other goal 
beyond it sought by means of happiness. The second good is everything 
useful in any way for obtaining happiness. So this is the good opposite to 
it. And this is the nature of each one of the two, nor does evil have any 
nature other than the one we have mentioned. 

So both evils are voluntary and, similarly, the two goods opposite to 
them. The good in the worlds is the first reason, everything following 
from it, what follows from what follows from it, and that whose existence 
follows from what follows from it, [81] on to the ultimate consequences. 43 
And, according to this ranking, any evil that is. 44 So all these are according 
to order and justice based on desert, and anything reached through desert 
and justice is good. 


43. Or, in keeping with the translation of lazama thus far in this clause as "to follow," 
"on to the ultimate things that follow" (ila akhir al-lawazim). 

44. Reading ayy sharr kana, with Najjar and all of the manuscripts except the Chester 
Beatty, which reads ayy shai’ kana ("anything that is"). The different readings point to a 
major problem of interpretation: though the aphorism opens with Alfarabi denying that 
evil has any existence at all, this particular argument starts from the premise that all 
good—even that in the worlds—is contrary to all evil and that both are merely voluntary. 
That leaves room for evil being discussed here as a consequence of the first reason or first 
cause, as reflected in the majority of the manuscripts. Note, however, the final sentence of 
this aphorism. 

In speaking throughout this aphorism of "worlds" Cawalim), rather than of "two 
worlds" (,'alatnan )—that is, what is evoked as God's dominion in the opening lines of the 
Quran—Alfarabi indirectly calls that description into question. 



48 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


A group presumed that existence, whatever it might be, is good and 
that non-existence, whatever it might be, is evil. So on their own they fash¬ 
ioned chimeric beings that they set down as good and non-existent beings 
that they set down as evil. 

Others presumed that pleasures, whatever they might be, are goods 
and that pain, whatever it might be, is evil—especially the pain attaching 
to the sense of touch. 

All of these are in error. That is because existence is good only when it 
is deserved, and non-existence is evil when it is not deserved. So, too, 
pleasures and pain. Existence and non-existence that are not deserved are 
evil, and none of these is something existing in anything of the spiritual 
worlds. For no one presumes that anything that is not deserved takes 
place in the spiritual and the celestial [worlds]. Nor does anything that is 
not deserved take place in the natural possible [worlds], as long as what 
is deserved is upheld in them; nor is what is voluntarily deserved sought 
in them. In possible nature, what is deserved is either in form or in mat¬ 
ter. What each thing deserves is either for the most [part], for the least 
[part], or equally. Everything it gains that does not go beyond these is 
therefore good. 

So there are two types of good. 45 One type has no evil opposite to it 
at all, and one type does. Similarly, every natural thing whose principle 
is a voluntary action may be a good and may be an evil. Now the dis¬ 
cussion here concerning what is purely natural shares in no way with 
the voluntary. [82] 

75. Aphorism. A group presumes that all the accidents of the soul and 
what comes from the appetitive part of the soul are evils. Others are of the 
opinion that the faculties of yearning and anger are both evil. And others 
are of that opinion concerning the other faculties by which the passions of 
the soul come about, like jealousy, harshness, greed, love of honor, and 
what is similar. 

These are also in error. That is because it is not what is suitable for 
being used for both good and evil that is good or evil, for one of the two is 
not more likely [to occur] than the other. So they are either both good and 
evil, or neither the one nor the other is. Rather, each one of these is evil 


45. Reading fa-al-khair idhan darban, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than 
fa-al-khairdt durub ("so there are types of good things"), with Najjar and the other manu¬ 
scripts. 



Selected Aphorisms 49 


when it is used to gain misery. Whereas when they are used to gain hap¬ 
piness, they are not evils; rather, all of them are goods. 

76. Aphorism. One group says that happiness is neither a reward for 
[performing] the actions by which happiness is gained, nor a recompense 
for giving up the actions by which it is not gained. For the knowledge 
attained through learning is not a reward for the learning that preceded it, 
nor a recompense for the rest that would have occurred had he not been 
learning and thus given it up, preferring toil in its stead. Moreover, if the 
knowledge gained from learning were followed by pleasure, that pleasure 
would not be a requital for instruction nor a recompense for the concomi¬ 
tant toil and pain when he preferred instruction, and gave up rest, so that 
this pleasure might be a recompense for another pleasure he gave up in 
order to be recompensed for it by this other one. Rather, happiness is a 
goal such that it is gained by virtuous actions in the same way as knowl¬ 
edge is attained by learning and study, and as the arts are attained 
through learning them and persisting in their activities. Nor is misery 
punishment for giving up virtuous actions or a requital for doing defec¬ 
tive ones. [83] 

Therefore anyone who believes this about happiness and is, in addi¬ 
tion, of the opinion that what he is recompensed by, 46 for what he gives 
up, is of the genus of what he gives up has virtues that are close to being 
defects. That is, the moderate person who gives up all or some sensual 
pleasures only so as to be compensated in place of what he gave up with 
another pleasure of a genus greater than what he gave up is carried by his 
avidity and covetousness for augmenting pleasure to give up what he 
gives up. Moreover, it must be his opinion that what he gave up was his; 
he gave it up only to come to something like it and to an increase in 
profit. Otherwise, how would he be recompensed for giving up what is 
not his? 

The case is the same with justice. For the justice that is practiced by 
giving up money and not taking it is also only avidity and covetousness 
for what he is to gain and be compensated for by his giving it up. He gives 
it up only out of covetousness for profit and to be recompensed for what 
he gives up with something far greater than what he gives up. It is as 
though he is of the opinion that all monies are his, what belongs to him 


46. Reading yu'awwad, for sense, with Dunlop, rather than yafutuh ("he relinquishes") 
with Najjar and all of the manuscripts. 



50 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


and what belongs to everybody. But he leaves it for them when he is able 
and capable of usurping it from them so that several times more will come 
to him from the source. 

That is like what the usurer does. He does not acquire justice and mod¬ 
eration insofar as they are a good for their own sake, nor does he give up 
doing evil and defective things for its own sake or because it is base in itself. 

The case is the same with the courageous person among these. He is of 
the opinion that he relinquishes the pleasures he wants for this fleeting 
life so as to be compensated for that by pleasures of a kind far greater than 
what he relinquished. He advances boldly upon an evil he loathes from 
fear of a greater evil. For he is of the opinion that advancing boldly upon 
death is an evil, yet fears an evil greater than it. 

Therefore, these that are presumed [84] to be virtues are closer to being 
vices and vile things than to being virtues. That is because their substance 
and nature are not truly of the nature of virtues nor close to it, but are 
rather of the genus of defects and vile things. 

77. Aphorism. By death, the virtuous person only relinquishes doing 
more of what increases happiness after death. Therefore, his apprehen¬ 
siveness about death is not the apprehensiveness of someone who is of the 
opinion that by death he will gain a very major evil nor the apprehensive¬ 
ness of someone who is of the opinion that by death he will relinquish a 
major good he has already attained and that will go out of his hand. 
Rather he is of the opinion that he will not gain any evil at all by death. He 
is of the opinion that the good he has attained at the time of his death is 
with him and will not separate from him at death. Rather, his apprehen¬ 
siveness is only the apprehensiveness of someone who is of the opinion 
that he relinquishes a profit he would have gained had he remained, one 
increasing what he had attained of good. It is close to the apprehensive¬ 
ness of someone who is of the opinion that what he relinquishes is not 
capital but a gain he was estimating and hoping for. So he is not at all 
frightened, but loves surviving so as to increase the good activity by 
which happiness is increased. 

78. Aphorism. The virtuous person ought not to hasten death, but ought 
rather to employ stratagems to survive as long as it is possible to increase 
doing what makes him happy lest the inhabitants of the city lose the use¬ 
fulness of his virtue to them. He ought to advance boldly upon death only 
when there is greater usefulness to the inhabitants of the city by his dying 



Selected Aphorisms 51 


than by his surviving. When death reluctantly alights upon him, he ought 
not to be apprehensive but virtuous. He should not be at all apprehensive 
about it nor be so frightened of it as to become distracted. Only the inhab¬ 
itants of ignorant and immoral cities are apprehensive about death. 

For [the inhabitants of] the ignorant [cities], it is because of their relin¬ 
quishing the goods of this world that they leave behind by death—these 
being either pleasures, monies, [85] honors, or ignorant goods other than 
that. For the immoral person, it is because of two things. One is his relin¬ 
quishing what he leaves behind of this world. The second is because he is 
of the opinion that he relinquishes happiness by death. With respect to 
that, he is more apprehensive than [the inhabitants of] the ignorant 
[cities]. For the inhabitants of the ignorant [cities] know nothing of happi¬ 
ness after death so as to be of the opinion that they relinquish it. The for¬ 
mer do know of it and so at death, due to what they presume they are 
relinquishing, apprehension and sorrow attach to them along with great 
repentance for what they have embarked upon previously in their lives. 
Thus they die while being distressed in several ways. 

79. Aphorism. When the virtuous warrior puts himself at risk, he does 
not do so while judging that he will not die through that action of his; for 
that is stupidity. Nor does he not let come to mind whether he will die or 
live, for that is rashness. Rather, he is of the opinion that he will perhaps 
not die and will perhaps escape. But he is not frightened by death, nor 
does he become apprehensive when it lights upon him. 

He does not put himself at risk while knowing or presuming that he 
will gain what he seeks without risk. Rather, he puts himself at risk only 
when he knows that what he seeks will be relinquished and not gained if 
he does not take the risk. He is of the opinion that he will perhaps gain it if 
he takes the risk. Or he is of the opinion that the inhabitants of the city will 
without doubt gain it through that action of his, whether he dies or lives. 
And he is of the opinion that if he is unharmed, he will share [it] with 
them; and that if he dies, they will gain it 47 while he will achieve happiness 
because of his previous virtue and because he has now sacrificed himself. 

80. Aphorism. When the virtuous person dies or is killed, he ought not 
to be mourned. Rather the inhabitants of the city ought to be mourned 


47. Reading naliih, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than nal ("he will 
gain"), with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 



52 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


according to the extent of his value to it, and he is to be admired in keep¬ 
ing with the extent of his happiness in the condition he has come to. And 
the warrior killed in warfare is singled out to be praised for sacrificing 
himself on behalf of the inhabitants of the city and for his boldness before 
death. [86] 

81. Aphorism. A group of people are of the opinion that the human 
being who is not wise becomes wise only by the separation of the soul 
from the body, in that the body remains without having a soul—and that 
is death. If he were wise before that, his wisdom would thereby be 
increased, completed, and perfected, or would become more perfect and 
more virtuous. Therefore, they are of the opinion that death is a perfection 
and that the soul's being united with the body is a constraint. 48 

Others are of the opinion that the evil human being is evil due only to 
the soul's being united with the body and that he becomes good with its 
being separated. Thus, it is incumbent upon these [people] to kill them¬ 
selves and to kill others. They subsequently have recourse to saying: "We 
are governed by God, by the angels, and by the helpers of God; of our¬ 
selves, we do not control the body's being united with the soul, nor its 
being separated from it; so we ought to wait for the One who united them 
to loose [them] and not help in their loosing ourselves. That is because 
those who govern us are more knowledgeable about what improves us 
than we are." 

Others are of the opinion that the separation of the soul from the body is 
not a separation in place nor a separation in idea, nor is the body destroyed 
while the soul survives or the soul destroyed while the body survives with¬ 
out possessing a soul. Rather, the meaning of the soul's being separated is 
that for its constitution it does not need the body to be its matter, nor in 
anything pertaining to its actions does it need to use a tool that is a body 
or use a faculty in a body. Nor in anything pertaining to its actions does it 
at all need to have recourse to an action of a faculty in a body. For as long 
as it is in need of one of these things, it is not separated. 

That pertains only to the soul particularly characteristic of the human 
being, namely, the theoretical intellect. For when it comes to this state, it 
becomes separated from the body regardless of whether that body is liv- 


48. Reading qasr, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than fa-sharr ("evil"), 
with Najjar and the Bodleian, Feyzullah, and both of the University of Teheran manu¬ 
scripts, or qishr ("covering"), with the Diyarbekir manuscript. 



Selected Aphorisms 53 


ing in that it is nourished and is sense perceptive, or whether the faculty 
by which it is nourished and is sense perceptive [87] has already been 
abolished. For if with respect to anything pertaining to its actions it comes 
not to need sense perception or imagination, it will already have come to 
the afterlife. Then its 49 forming a concept of the essence of the first princi¬ 
ple will be more perfect, since the intellect will have seized its essence 
without needing to form a concept of it by means of a relationship or an 
example. It does not arrive at this state except by its previous need for 
having recourse to the bodily faculties and their actions for performing its 
[own] actions. 50 This is the afterlife in which a human being sees his Lord, 
not being defrauded in his seeing nor disquieted. 

82. Aphorism. Anything whose existence comes about by means of com¬ 
bination and composition, however that combination and composition 
come about, is defective in existence because of its constitution's needing 
the things of which it is combined—whether that is a combination of 
quantity, a combination of matter and form, or any other of the sorts of 
combinations. 

83. Aphorism. That one thing acts upon another is for that other to fol¬ 
low from the thing, and one thing acting upon another is that other fol¬ 
lowing from the thing. One thing is an agent of another when it [the latter] 
follows from it. The agent of something is what makes that thing follow 
from it. That by which the other is acted upon 51 is that from which the 
other cannot possibly follow as long as it is not moved. That is, whenever 
it has procured by its movement a state by which alone it acts or a state 
added to what it had previously, it acts upon that other by the coming 
together of the second and the first; so by those two having come together, 
it acts upon [88] that other. That pertains only to what was existing at first 
with an insufficiency to act until another thing was added to it. What has 
acted upon another only by being moved is in its substance needy and 
insufficient to make follow another thing such as to follow from it to gen¬ 
erate what is such as to be generated and to act upon what is such as to be 
acted upon. Therefore, whatever is sufficient in its substance and in its 


49. The antecedent of the masculine singular pronoun can only be the theoretical intel¬ 
lect ( al-'aql al-nazari), as is borne out by the sequel. 

50. Reading af'alah, for sense, rather than af ’alaha ("their actions"). 

5 r. Reading yuf 'al al-akhar bih, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than yuf 'at 
akhar fth, with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 



54 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


own existence to act upon another does not at all act upon what it acts 
upon nor make follow what it makes follow by being moved. 

84. Aphorism. Anyone who does a certain thing knows that his doing 
that thing at a certain moment is more beneficial or is good, or [that his] 
doing that thing is not more beneficial or is evil. He postpones doing that 
only because there is an impediment to his doing that thing. The corrup¬ 
tion he is of the opinion and knows will occur to that thing if he does it at 
that moment is what impedes him. So he ought to know what the reason 
for corruption is at that moment and what the reason for improvement is 
afterward. If there is no reason for corruption, then it is not more appro¬ 
priate that it not be than that it be. So why should it not come about? 
Moreover, does its artisan have the ability to extinguish the corruption 
occurring when it is done at that moment or not? If he does have the abil¬ 
ity, its occurring 52 is not more appropriate than its not occurring, nor is its 
coming to be at any moment impossible for its artisan. 

If he does not have the ability to extinguish the corruption, the cause 53 
of the corruption is more powerful. So of himself the artisan is not com¬ 
pletely sufficient for that thing's coming to be without qualification. In 
addition, there is something contrary to his action and impeding it. At any 
rate, he is therefore not sufficient by himself for completing that action; 
rather, it is he, plus 54 the extinction of the reason for corruption and the 
presence of the reason for improvement. For if he in and of his own 
essence were the reason for improvement, the improvement coming from 
the action ought not to have been postponed 55 in time, but they should 
both come to be simultaneously. Therefore it follows that when the agent 
[89] in and by himself suffices for generating a certain thing, the existence 
of that thing is not postponed after the existence of the agent. 

85. Aphorism. It is said that a human being is intelligent and that he 
intellects when two things have come together in him. One is that he be 
excellent at distinguishing what actions he ought to prefer or avoid. The 
second is that he practice what is most excellent with respect to every¬ 
thing he seizes upon by means of his excellence at distinguishing. For 


52. That is, the occurrence of the corruption. 

53. Literally, "reason"; the term is sabab. 

54. Adding wa, with the Diyarbekir manuscript. 

55. Reading muta’akhkhar, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than muzayad 
("extended"), with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 



Selected Aphorisms 55 


when he is excellent at distinguishing and practices what is worse and 
more vicious with respect to what he distinguishes, it is said that he is a 
propagandist, a fraud, or a deceitful person. 

Our saying that "so and so has intelligence now" may be used in place 
of our saying "he has become aware of what he was neglecting" and may 
be used instead of our saying "he has understood what the expression of 
the speaker signified" and "it has been impressed upon his soul." We may 
say "he has intellected," meaning thereby that the intelligibles have 
reached him as concepts and impressions in his soul. And we say of him 
"he is intelligent," meaning by our statement "the intelligibles have 
reached his soul"; that is, that he knows the intelligibles. For there is no 
difference here between saying "he intellects" and saying "he knows," 
between "the one who is intelligent" and "the one who knows," or 
between "things intellected" and "things known." 

According to the opinion of Aristotle, the prudent person is one who 
has excellent deliberation for inferring what virtuous actions he ought to 
do at a certain moment with respect to each occurrence if, in addition, he 
is virtuous with respect to moral virtue. What the dialecticians mean by 
saying that "this is affirmed by intelligence or refuted by intelligence" is 
what is generally accepted by everyone according to unexamined opin¬ 
ion. For they call intelligence the unexamined opinion shared by everyone 
or by most people. 

86. Aphorism. A group of people say of the first cause 56 that it does not 
intellect or know [anything] other than its essence. 

Others claim that it attains all of the universal intelligibles in one fell 
swoop and that it knows them and intellects them simultaneously in no 
time. For they all come together in its essence, [90] always known to it in 
actuality forever and ever. 

Others claim that despite attaining the intelligibles, it knows all of the 
sense-perceptible particulars and forms a concept of them, and that they 
are impressed upon it. And [they claim] that it forms a concept of and 
knows what is now non-existent but will exist hereafter, what has been in 
the past and is bygone, and what exists now. It is incumbent upon these 
[people] that accuracy, falsehood, and mutually contrary beliefs succeed 
one another in all of the intelligibles it has; that those intelligibles be 
unending; that those of them that are affirmative become negative as well 


56. Literally, "reason"; the term is sabab. See note 53. 



56 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


as that those that are negative become affirmative at another time; and 
that it know unending things with respect to what is past. That is, that it 
knows what will be in the future and that it knows what is existing now. 
And, moreover, that it knows what had been, then was existing for times 
without end before that instant, namely, the conjectured moment; and 
afterward it knows those known things for times without end in ways 
different from what it knows of those very things at another moment. 

If I set down an example of that, it will become evident and apparent to 
you. So let the example be set down as the time of Hermes or of Alexander. 
What it knew in the time of Alexander as coming to be in the present time, 
which is close to the moment of that time, it 57 had known for many stretches 
of time before that it would be; and it knows afterward, in another time, 
that it has been. So it knows that thing to be existing in the time that was in 
Alexander's time according to three times and three conditions of knowl¬ 
edge. That is because, before the time of Alexander, it knows that it will be; 
in the time of Alexander himself, it knows that it is presently in being; and 
afterward, it knows that it has been, then became exhausted, and expired. 

It is like that if you compare the condition of each time or the condi¬ 
tion of each year, month, or day in spite of the frequency of numbers and 
the difference of conditions. [91] It is the same with the condition of indi¬ 
viduals and the sorts of changeableness succeeding upon one individual 
after another. For example, it knows that Zayd is a helper of God, obedi¬ 
ent and useful to His helpers; then it knows him as an enemy of God, dis¬ 
obedient and harmful to His helpers. So, too, with the conditions of land, 
the movements of spatial bodies, and the transformation of some into 
others. Now this opinion eventually brings its proponents to repulsive, 
base things. From it, wicked opinions branch off that are the reason for 
major evils in addition to its baseness, the types of changeableness and 
transformations that become incumbent upon the soul of the knower, the 
incidents succeeding upon them, and what is similar to that. 

87. Aphorism. Many creatures hold different beliefs about God's, may 
He be exalted, providence for His creatures. 

Some claim that He provides for His creatures just as the king pro¬ 
vides for his flock and their welfare—without becoming directly involved 
in each one of their affairs, nor acting as a mediator between his associate 


57. Reading qad, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than wa qad ("and it 
had"), with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 



Selected Aphorisms 57 


an d his wife. Rather he sets in place for that someone who takes it over, 
carries it out, and does with respect to it what truth and justice oblige him 
to do. 

Others are of the opinion that that is not enough unless He takes over 
for them and takes upon Himself, on their behalf, the governing of each 
one of His creatures with respect to each thing pertaining to their actions 
and welfare and does not put any one of His creatures in charge of 
another. Otherwise, those would be His partners and aides in His gover¬ 
nance of His creatures, and He is too exalted to have partners and aides. 
From that, it follows that He is responsible for 58 many of the actions that 
are defects, blameworthy things, base things, the error of those who err, 
and obscene speech and deed. And when any one of His creatures is 
intent upon tricking one of His helpers or refuting by means of objection 
the statement of someone who is telling the truth. He would be his aide 
and the One responsible for directing and guiding him. He would drive 
this person to fornication, murder, theft, and what is baser than that such 
as the actions of children, drunkards, and mad persons. Now if they deny 
some of His governing or aiding, they must deny [92] all of it. 

These are the roots of wicked opinions and the reason for corrupt, bad 
doctrines. 


[h. the virtuous regime] 

88. Aphorism. The regime [taken] without qualification is not a genus 
for the rest of the sorts of regimes, but is rather a kind of ambiguous name 
for many things that are consistent with it while differing in their essences 
and natures. There is no partnership between the virtuous regime and the 
rest of the sorts of ignorant regimes. 


89. Aphorism. The virtuous regime is the one through which the 
leader 59 gains a kind of virtue he cannot possibly gain otherwise, namely, 
the greatest 60 of the virtues a human being is able to gain. The ruled 61 gain 


58. Here and further on in the aphorism the literal sense is "He is the one who takes 
over" (huwa al-mutawallT li). 

59. The term is sa’is and thus belongs to the same root as siyasa, translated here and 
throughout the text as "regime." 

60. Reading akbar, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than akthar ("most" or 
"the most"), with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 

61. Or, more literally, "the led" (al-masiisin). This, too (see note 59), belongs to the 
same root as siyasa ("regime"). 



58 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


virtues with respect to their this-worldly life and the afterlife that they 
could not gain except by means of it. With respect to their this-worldly 
life, it is [a] that the body of each one have the best traits possible for its 
nature to receive, [b] that the soul of each one have the best conditions 
possible for its individual nature and for its power to [obtain] the virtues 
that are the reason for happiness in the afterlife, and [c] that their subsis¬ 
tence be better and more pleasant than all the sorts of life and subsistence 
that others have. 

90. Aphorism. It is difficult and improbable that a pure sort of the igno¬ 
rant regimes not sullied by anything else would follow from the actions of 
one of the ignorant rulers. For the actions of each one of them stem from 
his opinion, presumptions, and the exigencies of his soul, not from knowl¬ 
edge or an acquired art. Therefore, what exists are regimes that are a 
blending of these ignorant regimes or of most of them. 

91. Aphorism. The predecessors only regulated these ignorant re¬ 
gimes, because knowledge is preserved and retained only by universal 
regulations. 62 Yet the existing ignorant regimes [93] are often combined 
regimes, so that someone cognizant of the nature of each regime is able 
to recognize what the existing regime is combined from and to pass 
judgment on it on the basis of what he finds of its combination and on 
the basis of the nature of every one of the simple sorts [of regimes] he is 
cognizant of. 

The case is the same with all practical things, such as rhetoric, 
sophistry, dialectic, and the poetic art. For the one who uses them without 
having any knowledge of them, while only presuming and reckoning 
that he is using demonstration, is often found to be using a various and 
Sunday mixture of them. 

92. Aphorism. Indeed, every one of the sorts of ignorant regimes com¬ 
prises sorts that are very different and varied. Some are at the limit of bad¬ 
ness, and some are slightly harmful while being greatly useful with 
respect to particular members of a certain group. That is because the con¬ 
dition of regimes and their link to souls is like the condition of the seasons 


62. The term is qawamn (sing, qanun), and the verb translated as "regulated" is qan- 
nana. The substantive refers to law and legislation in the sense of regulation, ordinance, or 
rule. 



Selected Aphorisms 59 


an d their link to bodies possessing different temperaments. Just as some 
bodies are improved in temperament and condition in the fall and some 
improved in the summer, while some find the winter season to be most 
beneficial and most agreeable for them, and some are greatly improved in 
the spring, such is the condition of souls ard their link to the regimes. 

However, the roots from which bodies are combined are likely to be 
more strongly restricted than are traits and ways of life. That is because 
traits and ways of life are combined from natural and voluntary things 
that are likely to be unending, some intentionally and others fortuitously. 
Many of the people of the traditional laws 63 mill around in misery without 
knowing it. Yet that is hardly hidden to the sick and to those possessing 
bad temperaments, or to the one investigating their conditions. 

93. Aphorism. The sorts of experiential faculty differ according to the 
different places in which it is used, the arts united with it, and those who 
use it, just as the art of writing differs [94] according to the arts in which it 
is used and those who use it. That is, what is used of both sorts 64 for gov¬ 
erning virtuous cities is very virtuous. Now the prudent person uses the 
experiential faculty during his youth, in his conduct in the presence of the 
supreme ruler, and while he is being schooled in virtuous rulership. From 
it a very venerable faculty useful in the virtuous regime is generated. 
Eventually, it succeeds in bringing the rulership of the one in whom vir¬ 
tuous rulership is potential to become actual rulership. And the most ven¬ 
erable of the sorts of writing is that used in the service of the supreme 
ruler and the virtuous king. Yet with respect to the venerable and the vir¬ 
tuous, it is subordinate to the experiential faculty used by the supreme 
ruler. For what is unqualifiedly venerable with respect to the experiential 
faculty is more venerable than what is venerable with respect to the art of 
writing. 

What is used of the experiential faculty in the lowest of the ignorant 
regimes—namely, the tyrannical regime—is evil and more vile than all of 
it used in the rest of the places. Similarly, what is used of writing in the 
tyrannical regime is evil and more vile than the sorts of writing used in 
the rest of the regimes and arts, and than what the rabble uses of it. Just as 
what is used of writing in the service of the virtuous king and the virtuous 

63. Reading al-sunan, with Najjar and all of the manuscripts except the Chester Beatty, 
which has al-siyar ("ways of life"). 

64. As the rest of the aphorism suggests, the two sorts are the experiential faculty and 
theart of writing. 



60 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


rulership is more venerable than the rest of the remaining sorts of writing 
used in the city, so is what is used of writing in the service of tyranny, its 
harmfulness, and the increase of its evil and tribulation more vile than the 
rest of the sorts of writing. 65 And just as what the prudent person and the 
supreme ruler use of the experiential faculty [in ruling] is more venerable 
than what they use of it in the service of writing, so is what the one 
devoted to tyranny uses of the experiential faculty [in ruling] more vile 
than what he uses of it in the service of writing. 

In sum, everything venerable surpasses what is subordinate to it in its 
species [95] when it is used in virtuous rulership; and it is vile and harm¬ 
ful, exceeding in vileness and harmfulness the rest of what is in its species, 
when it is used in the tyrannical regime. Similarly, the rest of the faculties 
of the soul that make a human being venerable, like distinguishing and 
what follows it, are the reason for every good in outstanding people; so 
they are very venerable and virtuous things. In the evil human being, they 
are the reason for every evil and corruption. And in the tyrannical king, 
they are the reason for the multiple evils that come about for one who is 
not a ruler. 

Therefore, they 66 did not call the faculty of calculation by which what 
is more useful for an evil goal is inferred a virtue of calculation. They 
called it, rather, by other names—like deceitfulness, ruse, 67 and trickery. 
Those human things that are the greatest voluntary things and arts in the 
tyrannical city are likely to be evils, disasters, and reasons for disasters 
being generated in the world. Due to that, the virtuous person is forbid- 


65. The text for this and the preceding sentence is corrupt, perhaps due to an inadver¬ 
tently omitted clause. Dunlop relies upon a medieval Hebrew translation (Bodleian, Mich. 
370) to read the following bracketed clause: wa ka-dhalika md yusta’mal min al-kitaba . . .wa 
al-sina 'at wa md yasta'miluh al-suqa ashraf min md / yusta'mal min al-kitaba fi khidmat al- 
taghallub ka-md an yakun sharf md] yusta'mal min al-kitaba fi khidmat al-malik al-fadil. . . asnaf 
al-kitaba. The ashraf min ma ("more venerable than what") just before the bracketed clause is 
from the Chester Beatty, the only Arabic manuscript to which Dunlop had access for this 
part of the text; the manuscripts known to Najjar give wa bi-hasab sharf md ("and in keeping 
with the venerableness of what"). If Dunlop's reading along with his emendation were 
accepted and a wdw ("and") were placed before ka-md ("just as") the text would read: "Sim¬ 
ilarly, what is used of writing . . . and arts. And what the rabble uses of it is more venera¬ 
ble than what is used of writing in the service of tyranny. And just as what is used of 
writing in the service of the virtuous king . . . the sorts of writing." 

For my translation, I follow Najjar and the other manuscripts, except that with the 
Chester Beatty manuscript I omit the wdw preceding the second ka-dhalika ("similarly"); see 
94 : 15 - 

66. The antecedent is not specified, but the pronoun probably refers to the Ancients. 

67. Reading jarbaza, for sense, rather than jariza ("outrage"). 



Selected Aphorisms 61 


den to reside in the corrupt regimes, and it is obligatory for him to emi¬ 
grate to the virtuous cities if any exist in actuality in his time. If they are 
non-existent, then the virtuous person is a stranger in this world and mis¬ 
erable 68 in life; death is better for him than living. 

94. Aphorism, on the uses of the theoretical part in philosophy, and 

THAT IT IS NECESSARY FOR THE PRACTICAL PART IN [DIFFERENT] WAYS. 

One of them is that practice is virtuous and correct only when a human 
being has (a) become truly cognizant of the virtues that are truly 
virtues, (b) become truly cognizant of the virtues that are presumed to 
be virtues yet are not like that, (c) habituated [96] himself to the actions of 
the virtues that are truly virtues so that they become one of his traits, (d) 
become cognizant of the ranks of the beings and what they deserve, (e) set 
each of them down in its level, (f) given it the full share of its right— 
namely, the extent of what it was given—and of its rank among the ranks 
of being, (g) preferred what ought to be preferred, (h) avoided what ought 
to be avoided, and (i) not preferred what is presumed to be preferable nor 
avoided what is presumed ought to be avoided. This is a state that is not 
attained or perfected except after becoming sophisticated; perfecting cog¬ 
nizance by means of demonstration; and becoming perfect in the natural 
sciences, what follows upon them, and what is after them according to 
rank and order, so that he finally comes to knowledge of the happiness 
that is truly happiness—namely, that which is sought for its own sake and 
at no period of time is sought for anything else—and is cognizant of how 
the theoretical virtues and the virtues of calculation are a reason and prin¬ 
ciple for bringing about the practical virtues and the arts. This does not 
come to be as a whole except through pursuing theory and transferring 
from degree to degree and level to level. 

It is not possible in any other way. That is, 69 the one who wishes to 
learn theoretical philosophy begins with numbers, then ascends to magni¬ 
tudes, then to the rest of the things to which numbers and quantities per¬ 
tain essentially—like optics and moving magnitudes—then to the celestial 
bodies and music, to weights, and to mechanics. These are things that are 
understood and conceived of without matter. And he ascends little by 
little in the things that need matter to be understood and conceived of 
until he comes to the celestial bodies. 


68. Literally, "bad" (radi ’). 

69. Addingwa-dhalika with the Chester Beatty manuscript. 



62 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


Then, afterward, it is necessary for him to introduce principles other 
than the principles of "what," "by what," and "how" to aid him in using 
the things that it is difficult or impossible to come to intellect unless they 
come into matter. They are adjacent to, [97] or midway between, the 
genus that has no principles of existence other than the principles of its 
[own] existence and the genus for whose species the four principles 
exist. 70 The natural principles emerge for him, and he pursues them and 
makes a theoretical inquiry into the natural beings and their principles of 
instruction until he comes to the principles of existence. What he procures 
of the principles of existence comes to be a ladder and principles of 
instruction for him. So the principles of existence he has procured come to 
be principles of instruction only in relation to two things. 71 

Then he transfers to knowledge of the reasons for the existence of nat¬ 
ural bodies and the search for their essences, substances, and reasons. 
When he ends up at the celestial bodies, the rational soul, and the active 
intellect, he transfers again to another rank. So it is necessary for him to 
inquire theoretically into the principles of their existence until he becomes 
aware of principles that are not natural. Thus, what he has procured of the 
principles of existence of that third rank also comes to be principles of 
instruction for these beings that are of more perfect existence than the nat¬ 
ural ones. 

He also comes to a midpoint between two sciences—the science of nat¬ 
ural things and the science of what is after the natural things—in the rank¬ 
ing of investigation and instruction. He also becomes aware of the 
principles for the sake of which they were brought into being, as well as of 
the goal and perfection for the sake of which the human being was 
brought into being. He knows [a] that the natural principles that are in the 
human being and in the world are insufficient for the human being to 
come by them to the perfection he was brought into being to obtain and 
[b] that the human being needs intellectual principles by which he strives 
toward that perfection. 

The human being has already come close to obtaining the level and 
degree of theoretical knowledge by which he gains happiness. And he 
obtains theory from both directions until he ends up at a being that can- 


70. That is, in addition to the three principles identified in the first sentence of this 
paragraph, the principle of end—"for what." 

71. The two things in question seem to be the two genera: namely, the genus having 
no principles of existence other than those for its own existence, and the genus that has the 
four principles of existence. 



Selected Aphorisms 63 


not possibly [98] have any of these principles at all. Rather, it is the first 
being and the first principle for all the beings mentioned previously; in 
ways no defect intrudes upon, but rather in the most perfect of the ways 
by which something is a principle for the beings, it is the one by which, 
from which, and for which they exist. He thus attains cognizance of the 
ultimate reasons for the beings. This is divine theoretical inquiry into the 
beings. In addition, he is always investigating the purpose for the sake of 
which the human being was brought into being—namely, the perfection 
incumbent upon the human being to obtain—and all the things by which 
the human being obtains that perfection. Then he is able to transfer to the 
practical part, and it is possible for him to begin to practice what he ought 
to practice. 

Another way is for someone to be given the practical part by a revela¬ 
tion that directs him toward a determination of each thing that he ought 
to prefer or avoid. They are both called knowers, for the name "knowl¬ 
edge" is homonymous for both of them just as it is homonymous for the 
practitioner of natural science and the diviner who relates what comes to 
be with respect to possible things. That is, the diviner does not have the 
ability to know all the individual possible things, because they are unend¬ 
ing; and it is absurd that knowledge would encompass what is unending. 
Yet he has the ability to set down knowledge of some possible thing that 
happens to occur to his mind or to the mind of one asking him about it. 
Because knowledge of some possible thing is knowledge contrary to the 
nature of the possible, the diviner does not have knowledge about the 
nature of the possible. Rather, knowledge about the nature of the possible 
belongs to the practitioner of natural science. 

Therefore the knowledge of both of them does not come from one sub¬ 
stance but the two are, rather, mutually contrary. The case is similar for 
someone who has become perfect in theoretical science and someone who 
has had revealed to him how to determine the actions of the inhabitants of 
cities or of a city without having cognizance of anything pertaining to the¬ 
oretical science. Nor is there a link or true congruence between one who 
has received revelation and who is perfect in theoretical knowledge, and 
one who has received revelation without [99] having become perfect in 
theoretical knowledge. Rather, the congruence is in name alone. 

95. Aphorism. The virtue of calculation is what enables a human being 
to make an excellent inference about what is more useful with respect to a 
virtuous goal shared by nations, a nation, or a city when there is a shared 



64 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


occurrence. Some of it is inference for what changes over short periods, 
and this is called the faculty for the sorts of temporary, particular gover¬ 
norships for the occurrence of things that occur gradually to nations, a 
nation, or a city. The faculty of calculation that infers what is useful for a 
goal that is evil is not a virtue of calculation. 

96. Aphorism. With respect to our bodies, it is not possible for us to 
acquire all the sorts of health with its temperaments, 72 or its constitutional 
elements, its customs, the kind of dwelling particular to it, the art by 
which to make a living, or what is similar to that. This is the condition of 
most bodies. And in some places, it is possible for the inhabitants to 
acquire only a slight amount of the sorts of health. The case is the same 
with [our] souls, in that they cannot acquire the virtues, or most of them, 
or can acquire only a slight amount of them. 

It is not up to the virtuous leader and the supreme ruler to establish 
virtues in someone the nature and substance of whose soul do not accept 
the virtues. For souls like this, it is up to him to obtain as much of the 
virtues as is possible for them and for their existence in accordance with 
what is useful for the inhabitants of the city. Likewise, for bodies in the 
condition that has been described, it is not up to the virtuous physician 
[100] to obtain the most perfect levels nor the highest degrees of health. It 
is up to him to obtain as much health as is possible for their nature and 
substance in accordance with the actions of the soul. Now the body is for 
the sake of the soul, and the soul is for the sake of final perfection— 
namely, happiness. And with respect to virtue, the soul is for the sake of 
wisdom and virtue. 

[1. THE DOUBTFUL APHORISMS ] 73 

97. Aphorism. By Abu Nasr, found appended to the back of the book in 
the handwriting of al-Khattabl. 74 

He said: It is not likely to find a human being endowed so perfectly 


72. Reading bi-amzijatiha, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than wa amzi- 
jatiha ("and its temperaments"), with Najjar and the other manuscripts. 

73. Aphorisms 97-100 are found only in the Chester Beatty manuscript and seem to be 
the addition of someone else; see Dunlop, p. 95. 

74. The identity of this person is not known. Dunlop notes, however (p. 95), that a cer¬ 
tain Hamd or Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Khattabl, the author of Gharib al- 
Hadith: al-Baydn ftTjaz al-Qur’an (The marvelous character of Hadlth: An explanation of the 
inimitableness of the Quran), was "a younger contemporary" of Alfarabi. 



Selected Aphorisms 65 


from the outset that no disparity is found in him at all and that the rest of 
his actions, his way of life, and his moral habits flow according to justice 
and equity without inclining to any of the extremes or to the tyranny of 
some contraries over others. That is because the endowed temperament is 
fabricated from mutual contraries that the composition forces together; if 
its natural characteristics were left alone and equalized, no compositeness 
would result from them at all due to the great dissimilarity between them 
and the disparate variation comprised within them. In spite of their com¬ 
ing together forcibly, there is no security against a slight or major discord 
bringing about the cessation of equilibrium in the natural constitution. 
Every endowed temperament having less discord among its elements is 
closer to equilibrium. And whenever discord becomes greater, it goes fur¬ 
ther away from equilibrium. Thus the natural constitution flows along 
with measures of discordance and equilibrium equal to the discordance 
and equilibrium of its natures. 

98. Aphorism. From the discourse of Abu Nasr, may God be pleased 
with him. 

Set down two men, one of whom already knows what is in all of Aris¬ 
totle's books pertaining to physics, logic, metaphysics, 75 politics, and 
mathematics, and all or the bulk of whose actions 76 are in conflict with 
what is noble according to the unexamined opinion shared by everyone. 
All of the actions of the other are in agreement with what is noble accord¬ 
ing to the unexamined opinion shared by everyone, even though he is not 
knowledgeable about the sciences the first one knows. Now this second 
one is closer to being a philosopher than the first, all of whose actions are 
in conflict with what is noble according to the unexamined opinion 
shared by everyone. And he is more able to master what the first has 
already mastered than the first to master what the second has already 
mastered. 

Philosophy in truth, according to unexamined opinion, 77 is for a 
human being to attain the theoretical sciences and to have all of his actions 
be in agreement with what is noble according to shared unexamined 
opinion and in truth. The one who is limited to the theoretical sciences 


75. Or, alternatively, "divine things" ( al-ilahiyya). 

76. Reading af’aluh, with the Chester Beatty manuscript, rather than af'aluha ("their 
actions"). 

77. Reading ft badi’ al-ra'y ft al-haqiqa, with Najjar, rather than Dunlop's ft badi’ al-ra’y 
wa ft al-haqiqa ("in unexamined opinion and in truth"). 



66 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


without all of his actions being in agreement with what is noble according 
to shared unexamined opinion is hindered by his established customs 
[101] from doing the actions that are noble according to the unexamined 
opinion shared by everyone. Therefore it is more likely that his customs 
will hinder him from having his actions be in agreement with what is 
noble in truth. And the one whose customary actions 78 are in agreement 
with what is noble according to the unexamined opinion shared by every¬ 
one is not hindered by his customs from learning the theoretical sciences, 
nor from having his actions come to be in agreement with what is noble in 
truth. For unexamined opinion compels him to do what is truly obligatory 
to do 79 more than to do what is an unconsidered opinion according to 
unexamined opinion. What is truly an opinion is an opinion that has been 
considered, and verified after consideration. And unexamined opinion 
makes it obligatory that a considered opinion be sounder than unexam¬ 
ined opinion. 

99. Aphorism. Also from the discourse of Abu Nasr, may God's com¬ 
passion be upon him. 

Association for virtue is beset by no variance at all and no enmity, 
because the purpose with respect to virtue is one—namely, the good 
willed for itself, not for anything else. Since what the two 80 yearn for and 
are intent upon is that purpose which is the good in itself, their path to it 
is one and their love for the thing itself is one. As long as their purpose is 
one, there is no enmity between the two of them. 

Enmity occurs only through difference in yearnings and variance in 
purposes. Then the conduct that comes about is one not admitting associ¬ 
ation. For the purpose of each is not the purpose of the other, nor is the 
path of one the path of the other. Moreover, in spite of their being analo¬ 
gous, they are corrupt and are an evil, not a good like the first purpose 
and the first association in seeking truth, obtaining happiness, and loving 
knowledge and virtuous things. 


78. Literally, "whose actions to which he has become accustomed" ( af'aluh allatt qad 
i'tadaha). 

79. Reading an yaf'al ma huwa ftal-haqtqawajibfi’luh, for sense, rather than an yaf’al fi'al- 
haqiqa ma huwa wajibfi’luh ("to do in truth what it is obligatory to do"), with Najjar and the 
Chester Beatty manuscript, or an yaf'al ma huwa ft al-haqlqa jamil wawajibfi'luh ("to do what 
is noble in truth and obligatory to do"), with Dunlop. 

80. There is no antecedent to which "the two" might refer. As becomes evident in the 
sequel, at issue are two individuals in each type of regime whose conduct brings about 
variance and enmity when they do not associate for the sake of virtue. 



Selected Aphorisms 67 


A second association is an association for earning and mutual support 
with respect to commercial dealings and business trades, because each 
one of the traders and partners wants to deny his companion his lot so as 
to get more. And his companion also wants that from him and believes in 
it; so then there is variance. 

The first two associate for nothing external to themselves and nothing 
for which they need another; nor is there contact with anyone else. Thus 
no variance at all comes between them as long as their purpose is one, just 
as no association at all comes about with these other two as long as their 
purpose is at variance. 

Moreover, the purpose intended in everything is truth and, likewise, 
good and virtue. So the two seekers of truth have already agreed upon 
their pursuit; they know it and thus do not disagree about it. What is other 
than truth and virtue is a path that is not to be traveled. When a human 
being travels it, he errs and becomes perplexed. The [other] two did not 
grasp their purpose and were at variance because of the difference in their 
purpose and because they traveled a path other than the one leading to 
their pursuit, even though they did not know it. For the pursuit of truth is 
in the soul by nature, even if it falls short of it. Do you not see that if you 
were to give each one of them the virtue of truth and knowledge, he 
would affirm it and know it even if he did not put it to use because of his 
defect and the accidents attaching to him? [102] 

100. Aphorism. What the careless person and the one who feigns care¬ 
lessness attain is the same. For carelessness leads the careless person to 
corruption, and feigning carelessness leads the one who feigns careless¬ 
ness to corruption. So the two of them agree about what is attained, 
namely, corruption. The one who feigns carelessness is not benefited by 
being cognizant of what he feigns carelessness about when he has not 
practiced what is obligatory with respect to it. Nor is the careless person 
[more] harmed by being absentminded and not doing what is obligatory. 
For the two of them agree about what is added and vary from one another 
with respect to knowledge and ignorance. 




Enumeration 
of the Sciences 




The translation 


This translation is based on the text of the Enumeration of the Sciences 
edited by 'Uthman Amin over half a century ago. 1 More recently, 
Muhsin Mahdi has corrected Amin's edition of Chapter Five up 
through the first two paragraphs of the fifth section. 2 Both the emenda¬ 
tions and the numbering of the sections introduced by Mahdi have 
been adopted here, but I have introduced my own paragraph divisions. 
The numbers within square brackets in the text refer to the page num¬ 
bers of Amin's original edition and are also to be found in the margins 
of Mahdi's text. The present translation differs from Fauzi Najjar's ear- 


1. See Ihsa’ al-'Ulum li-al-Farabl, edited, with an introduction and notes, by 'Uthman 
Amin (Cairo: Daral-Fikral-'ArabI, 1949). 

2. See "FT al-'Ilm al-Madam wa 'Ilm al-Fiqh wa 'Ilm al-Kalam min al-Fasl al-Khamis min 
Kitab Ihsa’ al-’Ulum” ("About Political Science, the Science of Jurisprudence, and the Sci¬ 
ence of Theology from the fifth chapter of the book. Enumeration of the Sciences”) in Abu 
Nasr al-Farabl, Kitab at-Milla wa Nusus Ukhra (Abu Nasr al-Farabl, Book of Religion and 
other texts), ed. Muhsin S. Mahdi (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1968), pp. 67-76. In his intro¬ 
duction, Mahdi explains that in revising Amin's text, he drew upon Angel Gonzalez Palen- 
cia's second edition of Ihsa’ al-'Ulum—Catalogo de las ciencias, edited, with Spanish translation 
(Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1953)—as well as the use Palen- 
cia made of the Madrid Escurial Library manuscript, no. 646, plus the following manu¬ 
scripts: Princeton University Library, Yahuda, no. 308; Istanbul Kopriilii Library, Mehmet, 
no. 1604; and Egyptian National Library, Maktabat, no. 264. The Princeton manuscript is 
the original from which the photocopy used by Amin was taken, but neither he nor Palen- 
cia knew of the Kopriilii manuscript; see Mahdi, pp. 22-27, es P- 26-27. 


71 



72 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


lier version 3 insofar as it is more literal and thus, hopefully, more faith¬ 
ful to Alfarabi's own prose style. 


The argument of the work 

In the preface or introduction to the Enumeration of the Sciences, 
Alfarabi explains that he is intent upon enumerating each of "the well- 
known sciences" and groups them into five chapters: the science of lan¬ 
guage and its parts; the science of logic and its parts; the sciences of 
mathematics, by which he means arithmetic, geometry, optics, astron¬ 
omy, music, measuring, and engineering; physical science and its parts 
as well as divine science and its parts; and, finally, political science and 
its parts, plus the sciences of jurisprudence and dialectical theology. In 
addition, he points to five ways in which his presentation of these sci¬ 
ences will be useful. They fall under three different headings. First, the 
book will be useful to the student of a given science for learning what to 
begin with, what to look into, what is worth looking into, and what is to 
be gained from studying that science so as to proceed in an orderly man¬ 
ner; similarly, it will allow one to compare the sciences and to learn 
which are more excellent, more useful, more sure, and more powerful as 
distinguished from those that are less so. Second, it will be useful insofar 
as it enables one to discern whether a person claiming to have insight 
into one of these sciences does in fact have such insight and will permit 
one who has a good grasp of one of the sciences to discern whether he 
knows all of its parts or only some, as well as to determine the extent of 
his knowledge. Finally, it will be useful both to the educated person 
intent upon gaining a summary acquaintance with each science and to 
the one who would like to resemble scientific people and thus be thought 
to be one of them. 

The presentation of each science is, accordingly, succinct—even some¬ 
what elementary. But, as is ever the case with Alfarabi, even his most gen¬ 
eral and unexceptional statements have deeper significance. This is 
especially true of his account of political science and of the way he contrasts 
it to jurisprudence on the one hand and dialectical theology on the other. 

3. See "Alfarabi, The Enumeration of the Sciences," trans. Fauzi M. Najjar, in Medieval 
Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook, ed. Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi (New York: The Free 
Press of Glencoe, 1963), pp. 24-30. 



Enumeration of the Sciences 73 


Alfarabi devotes roughly the same amount of space to his account of 
political science as he does to that of the science of dialectical theology, 
but says surprisingly little about the science of jurisprudence. Moreover, 
he displays a remarkable ambivalence about what to call these different 
pursuits: though he always speaks of political science—sometimes con¬ 
trasting it with, or assimilating it to, political philosophy—he seems 
unsure whether jurisprudence and dialectical theology are sciences or 
arts. To be sure, each is identified as a science in the preface to this work as 
well as in the title to the chapter, and Alfarabi once refers to jurisprudence 
as a science; but he also speaks of it and of dialectical theology as arts. 
There is something else: succinct as is Alfarabi's account of jurisprudence, 
and negative as is his account of dialectical theology, especially his 
description of the sophistry to which some groups of dialectical theolo¬ 
gians resort in order to defend religion, it is only with respect to these two 
arts or sciences that the term "opinions" occurs. As presented here, the 
well-known political science or political philosophy concentrates on influ¬ 
encing the way human beings act to such an extent that neither one has 
anything to say about what they think. 

Another striking feature about Alfarabi's short disquisition on politi¬ 
cal science is its repetitiveness. Indeed, he seems to give two nearly iden¬ 
tical accounts of political science in the first and third sections of Chapter 
Five. But since nearly identical is not the same thing as identical, one must 
wonder about the difference or differences between these two accounts. 
Or, if the account of political science and political philosophy presented in 
the first and second sections represents one statement, and that presented 
in section three another, the question centers on the differences between 
the explanation of sections one and two and that of section three. That the 
first may be a non-philosophic political science is suggested by the fact 
that the term "political philosophy" appears only in section two and that 
if Plato and Aristotle are mentioned at all, it is only in section three. 4 If this 
first political science is not philosophical or based on philosophical reflec¬ 
tions, on what is it based? 

An equally important question concerns the relationship between 
Alfarabi's full account of political science (that given in sections 1-3) and 
both jurisprudence and dialectical theology. The account of these latter 
two, but especially of dialectical theology, is based on the way they are 


4. See Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, section three and note 5. 



74 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


actually practiced, whereas the account of political science and political 
philosophy appears to be based more on what each strives for or aims at. 
That is, neither political science nor political philosophy is presented as 
though this is the way people think either one actually functions—except 
when negative examples are adduced. And, as noted, when Alfarabi 
begins to discuss jurisprudence and dialectical theology, he observes that 
each is concerned with opinions and actions, a distinction he does not 
make when speaking about political science or political philosophy. It 
almost seems as though jurisprudence and dialectical theology are 
unique in being able to offer people a complete view of the whole, some¬ 
thing the old political science or political philosophy cannot achieve. 
Alfarabi does not attempt here to defend the old political science or polit¬ 
ical philosophy. Nor does he seek to show that either one can provide an 
equivalent to the worldview set forth by jurisprudence and dialectical 
theology. What he does, instead, is to note that jurisprudence and dialec¬ 
tical theology come into being with religion ( milla ), something he is com¬ 
pletely silent about in his account of political science and political 
philosophy. 

Still, Alfarabi does indicate how limited dialectical theology is. He 
does so obliquely, to be sure, but he does it. A regime ruled by adher¬ 
ents to jurisprudence ( fiqh ) and dialectical theology ( kalam ) is not 
desirable. Rather, it is limiting, even threatening, with respect to inde¬ 
pendent inquiry. Consequently, we must wonder how Alfarabi can 
provide for a political science that is capable of competing with the 
appeal of jurisprudence and dialectical theology and yet keeps open the 
possibility of inquiry. Given the limitations of this work, we cannot 
expect to find the solution here; it is to be found in the Book of Religion. 
Indeed, at the end of that work (section 27), Alfarabi explains how the 
account of political science and religion offered there achieves both of 
these goals and then concludes by insisting upon the importance of reli¬ 
gion for sound political life. A sign that Alfarabi saw the two works 
linked in this manner is the number of overlapping passages or paral¬ 
lels in the two works: section 1 of the Enumeration of the Sciences with 
sections 11-13, and i4a-d of the Book of Religion-, section 2 of the Enu¬ 
meration of the Sciences with section 15 of the Book of Religion; and section 
3 of the Enumeration of the Sciences with part of section 15 plus sections 
16-18 of the Book of Religion. In other words, in the Enumeration of the 
Sciences and above all in Chapter Five of that work, Alfarabi is intent on 
far more than providing a conventional summary of the sciences or 



Enumeration of the Sciences 75 


simply preserving for posterity a record of knowledge as it was 
received at his time. Rather, he seeks to show here the problems that 
political science and political philosophy have to face now that 
revealed religion has appeared. An indication of how they can meet 
that challenge occurs only in the Book of Religion. 



Enumeration of the Sciences 


[l02] CHAPTER FIVE: 

ON POLITICAL SCIENCE, 

THE SCIENCE OF JURISPRUDENCE, 

AND THE SCIENCE OF DIALECTICAL THEOLOGY 

1. Political science investigates the sorts of voluntary actions and ways 
of life; the dispositions, moral habits, inclinations, and states of character 
from which those actions and ways of life come about; the goals for the 
sake of which they are performed; how they ought to exist in a human 
being; how to order them in him according to the manner they ought to 
exist in him; and the way to preserve them for him. 

It distinguishes among the goals for the sake of which the actions are 
performed and the ways of life practiced. 

It explains that some of them are truly happiness and that some are 
presumed to be happiness without being so and that it is not possible for 
the one which is truly happiness to come to be in this life, but rather in a 
life after this one, which is the next life, whereas what is presumed to be 
happiness—like affluence, honor, and pleasures—is what is set down as 
goals only for this life. 

It distinguishes the actions and the ways of life. 

It explains that the ones through which what is truly happiness is 
obtained are the goods, the noble actions, and the virtues; that the rest are 
evils, base things, and imperfections; and that the way they are to exist in 
a human being is for the virtuous actions and ways of life [103] to be dis- 


76 



Enumeration of the Sciences 77 


tributed in cities and nations in an orderly manner and to be practiced in 
common. 

It explains that those do not come about except by means of a rulership 
that establishes those actions, ways of life, states of character, disposi¬ 
tions, and moral habits in cities and nations and strives to preserve them 
for the citizens 1 so that they do not pass away; that this rulership does not 
come about except by a craft and a disposition that bring about the actions 
for establishing them among the citizens 2 and the actions for preserving 
for them what has been established among them. This is the kingly craft, 
or kingship, or whatever a human being wants to call it; and the regime is 
the work of this craft. 3 And [it explains] that rulership is of two kinds: [a] 
A rulership that establishes the voluntary actions, ways of life, and dispo¬ 
sitions such that by them one obtains what is truly happiness; it is virtu¬ 
ous rulership, and the cities and nations subject to this rulership are the 
virtuous cities and nations, [b] And a rulership that establishes in cities 
and nations the actions and states of character by which one obtains what 
is presumed to be happiness without being such, namely, ignorant ruler¬ 
ship. This rulership admits of several divisions, each one of which is 
called by the purpose it is intent upon and pursues; thus there are as 
many of them as there are things this rulership seeks as goals and pur¬ 
poses. If it seeks to acquire wealth, it is called a vile rulership; if honor, it 
is called timocracy; and if something other than these two, it is called by 
the name of that goal it has. 

It explains that the virtuous kingly craft is composed of two faculties. 
One of these is the faculty for [ 104] universal rules. The other is the faculty 
a human being acquires through lengthy involvement in civic deeds, car¬ 
rying out actions with respect to individuals and persons in particular 
cities, and skill in them through experience and long observation, as it is 
with medicine. Indeed, a physician becomes a perfect healer only by 
means of two faculties. One is the faculty for the universals and the rules 
he acquires from medical books. The other is the faculty he attains by 
lengthy involvement in practicing medicine on the sick and by skill in it 
from long experience with, and observation of, individual bodies. By 


1. Literally, "for them" (’alaihim). 

2. Literally, "among them" ( flhim ). 

3. Or, alternatively, "and politics is the activity of this craft" (wa al-siyasa hiya fi'l 
hadhihial-mihna). The difficulty in understanding the precise meaning of the clause arises 
because the term siyasa can just as well mean "politics" as "regime." 



78 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


means of this faculty the physician is able to determine the medicaments 
and cure with respect to each body in each circumstance. Similarly, the 
kingly craft is able to determine the actions with respect to each occur¬ 
rence, each circumstance, and each city in each moment only by means of 
this faculty, which is experience. 

2. Political philosophy is limited—in what it investigates of the volun¬ 
tary actions, ways of life, and dispositions, and in the rest of what it inves¬ 
tigates—to universal rules. It gives patterns for determining them with 
respect to each circumstance and each moment; how, by what, and to 
what extent they are to be determined. Then it leaves them undetermined, 
because determining in actuality belongs to a faculty other than this sci¬ 
ence and is such as to be added to it. Moreover, the circumstances and 
occurrences with respect to which determination takes place are indefinite 
and without limitation. 

3. This science has two parts. 

One part comprises bringing about cognizance of 4 what happiness is; 
distinguishing between what it truly is and what it is presumed to be; 
enumerating the universal voluntary actions, ways of life, moral habits, 
and states of character that are such as to be distributed in cities and 
nations; and distinguishing the virtuous ones from the non-virtuous 
ones. 

Another part comprises the way of ordering the virtuous states of 
character and ways of life in the cities and nations; bringing about cog¬ 
nizance of the royal actions by which the virtuous ways of life and actions 
are established [105] and ordered among the inhabitants of the cities and 
of the actions by which what has been ordered and established among 
them is preserved. 

Then it enumerates the non-virtuous sorts of kingly crafts, how many 
they are and what each one is. It enumerates the actions each one of them 
performs and what ways of life and dispositions each one of them seeks to 
establish in the cities and nations so as to obtain its purpose from the 
inhabitants of the cities and nations under its rulership. 5 It explains that 

4. See Selected Aphorisms, note 5. Here and in what follows, the terms derive from the 
second form of 'arafa so that at issue is making the citizens aware of, or acquainting them 
with, something, rather than providing them with knowledge or science about it. 



Enumeration of the Sciences 79 


all of those actions, ways of life, and dispositions are like sicknesses for 
the virtuous cities. The actions that particularly characterize these kingly 
crafts and their ways of life are like sicknesses for the virtuous kingly 
craft. The ways of life and dispositions that particularly characterize their 
cities are like sicknesses for the virtuous cities. 

Then it enumerates how many reasons and tendencies there are be¬ 
cause of which the virtuous rulerships and the ways of life of virtuous 
cities are in danger of being transformed into ignorant ways of life and 
dispositions. Along with them, it enumerates the sorts of actions by which 
virtuous cities and rulerships are restrained lest they become corrupted 
and transformed into non-virtuous ones. It also enumerates ways of 
ordering, tricks, and things to be used to restore them to what they were 
when they have been transformed into ignorant ones. 

Then it explains the number of things that constitute the virtuous 
kingly craft; [106] among them are the theoretical and practical sciences, 
and added to them is the faculty attained through experience arising 
from long involvement in actions with respect to cities and nations, 
namely, the aptitude for excellently inferring the stipulations by which 
the actions, ways of life, and dispositions are determined with respect 
to each community, each city, or each nation in accordance with each 
circumstance and each occurrence. It explains that the virtuous city 
remains virtuous and is not transformed only when its kings succeed 
one another through time and have the very same qualifications 5 6 so that 
the successor has the same attributes and qualifications as his predeces¬ 
sor and their succession is without interruption or break. It brings 
about cognizance of what ought to be done so that there is no interrup¬ 
tion in the succession of kings. It explains which natural qualifications 
and attributes ought to be sought in the sons of the kings and in others 


5. In Angel Gonzalez Palencia's editions of this work, based on the Madrid Escurial 
manuscript, the following variant is to be found: "And this is in the Politics, namely, the 
book by Aristotle on politics; and it is also in the Republic by Plato and in books by Plato 
and others." The clause "the Republic by Plato" might also be translated as "the book by 
Plato on politics," it being almost identical to the clause "the book by Aristotle on politics," 
that is, kitab al-siyasa li-Aflatun and kitab al-siyasa li-Aristutalis. The variant is bracketed by 
both Mahdi and Amin. Though Amin had access only to the first edition of Palencia's 
work—namely, Catalogo de las ciencias, edited, with Spanish translation, by Angel Gonzalez 
Palencia (Madrid: Maestre, 1932)—Mahdi was able to consult as well the 1953 second edi¬ 
tion in which this phrase is also found. 

6. Here and in what follows in the rest of this section, the term is shara’it and thus 
should be understood literally as "stipulations." 



80 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


so that the one in whom they are found will qualify for kingship after 
the one who is now king. It explains how the one in whom these natu¬ 
ral qualifications are found is to be raised and in what way he ought to 
be instructed so that he attains the kingly craft and becomes a complete 
king. 

It explains, moreover, that those whose rulership is ignorant ought 
not to be called kings at all and that they have no need of either theoreti¬ 
cal or practical philosophy in any of their circumstances, activities, or 
ways of ordering; rather, each one of them can achieve his purpose with 
respect to the city or nation under his rulership by means of the experien¬ 
tial faculty he attains by pursuing the kind of actions with which he 
obtains what he is intent upon and arrives at the good that is his purpose, 
[ 107] providing he happens to possess a deceitful faculty and genius good 
for inferring the actions he needs for obtaining the good he is intent 
upon—pleasure, honor, or whatever—and to that is added his being good 
at imitating those kings who preceded him and were intent upon the 
same thing as he. 

4. The art of jurisprudence is that by which a human being is able to 
infer, from the things the lawgiver declared specifically and determi- 
nately, the determination of each of the things he did not specifically 
declare. And he is able to aspire to a verification of that on the basis of 
the purpose of the lawgiver in the religion he legislated with respect to the 
nation for which it was legislated. 

Every religion has opinions and actions. The opinions are like the 
opinions that are legislated with respect to God, how He is to be described, 
the world, and other things. The actions are like the actions by which God 
is praised and the actions by which there are mutual dealings in cities. 
Therefore the science of jurisprudence has two parts: a part with respect 
to opinions and a part with respect to actions. 

5. The art of dialectical theology is a disposition by which a human 
being is able to defend the specific opinions and actions [108] that the 
founder of the religion declared and to refute by arguments whatever 
opposes it. This art is also divided into two parts: a part with respect to 
opinions and a part with respect to actions. 

It is different from jurisprudence in that the jurist takes the opinions 
and actions declared by the founder of the religion as given and sets them 
down as fundamentals from which he infers the things that necessarily 



Enumeration of the Sciences 81 


follow from them, whereas the dialectical theologian defends the things 
the jurist uses as fundamentals without inferring other things from them. 
If it happens that there is a certain human being who has the ability to do 
both matters, he is a jurist and a dialectical theologian. He defends them 
insofar as he is a dialectical theologian, and he infers them insofar as he is 
a jurist. 7 

As for the ways and opinions by which religions are to be defended, 
[a] one group of dialectical theologians is of the opinion they should 
defend religions by saying that the opinions of religions and all that is 
posited in them are not such as to be examined by opinions, deliberation, 
or human intellects. For they are of a higher order insofar as they are 
taken from divine revelation and because there are divine secrets in them 
that human intellects are too weak to perceive and do not reach. More¬ 
over, a human being is such that by revelation religions provide him with 
what he is not wont [109] to perceive by his intellect and what his intellect 
is too languid [to grasp]. Otherwise, were revelation to provide a human 
being only with what he knew and could perceive by his intellect if he 
considered it, there would be no sense to, or benefit from, it. If it were 
thus, people would trust in their intellects and they would have no need 
for prophecy or revelation. But that is not what is done with them. There¬ 
fore, with respect to the sciences, religions ought to provide what our 
intellects are not able to perceive. Not only this, but also what our intel¬ 
lects object to; for whatever we more strongly object to is more likely to be 
of greater benefit. That is because what religions bring forth that intellects 
object to and fancies find repugnant is not objectionable or absurd in 
truth, but is valid according to the divine intellects. 

If a human being were to reach the end of perfection with respect to 
humanity, his position with respect to those who have divine intellects 
would be that of a child, an adolescent, and an immature youth with 
respect to a perfect human being. Many children and immature youths 
object to many things by their intellects that are not objectionable or 
impossible in truth, although to them they happen to be impossible. And 
that is like the position of the one at the end of the perfection of the human 
intellect with respect to the divine intellects. Before being educated and 
trained, a human being objects to many things, [110] finds them repug¬ 
nant, and imagines that they are impossible. When he is educated by 

7. This marks the end of the Arabic text edited by Muhsin Mahdi. For what follows, 
the translation is based on 'Uthman Amin's edition. 



82 AUarabi, The Political Writings 


means of the sciences and given training in experiments, those presump¬ 
tions disappear: the things that were impossible for him are transformed 
and become necessary, and he now comes to wonder about the opposite 
of what he formerly used to wonder about. Similarly, it is not impossible 
that the human being who is perfect in humanity may object to 8 things 
and imagine they are not possible without them being like that in truth. 

So for these reasons, 9 these [dialectical theologians] were of the opin¬ 
ion that religions are to be set down as valid. Indeed, he who brought us 
revelation from God, may He be exalted, is truthful; it is not permissible 
that he ever have lied. That he is like this can be validated in one of two 
ways: either by the miracles he performs 10 or that appear through his 
hands, or by the testimonies of those truthful ones who preceded him 
whose statements about his truthfulness and his standing with respect to 
God, may He be exalted and magnified, are accepted, or by both together. 
Once we validate his truthfulness and that it is not permissible for him 
ever to have lied in these ways, there ought to remain no room for intel- 
lecting, consideration, deliberation, or reflection with respect to what he 
says. So by these and similar [ways], these [dialectical theologians] were 
of the opinion that they would defend religions. 

[b] Another group is of the opinion that they defend religion by first 
setting forth everything stated explicitly by the founder of the religion in 
the very utterances he expressed. Then they pursue the sense-perceptible, 
generally received, and intelligible things. When they find one of these 
things or their consequences, [ 111 ] however remote, testifying to what is 
in the religion, they defend it by means of that thing. When they find one 
contradicting 11 anything in the religion, and they are able to interpret— 
even by a very remote interpretation—the utterance by which the founder 
of the religion expressed it in a way agreeing with that contradiction, they 
interpret it so. If that is not possible for them, yet it is possible to treat the 
contradiction as spurious or construe it so as to agree with what is in the 
religion, they do so. If the testimony of the generally received things is 
opposed to that of the sense-perceptible things, as when the sense- 


8. Reading la yamtani' an yastankir, with the Madrid Escurial manuscript, instead of 
Amin's la yamtani' min an yakun yastankir ("it is not impossible . . . would have objected"). 

9. Reading al-asbab, for sense, instead otal-ashya’ ("things"), with Amin and the other 
manuscripts. 

10. Reading ya'maluha, with the Madrid Escurial manuscript, instead of ya'qiluha 
("that he intellects"), with the text. 

11. Correcting mutaqidan in the text, which has no meaning, to mumqidan. 



Enumeration of the Sciences 83 


perceptible things or their consequences require one thing and the gener¬ 
ally accepted things or their consequences require its opposite, they look 
to the one that has the most powerful testimony for what is in the religion 
a nd take it while rejecting the other and treating it as spurious. If it is not 
possible to construe the utterance in the religion so as to agree with one of 
these, nor to construe one of these so as to agree with the religion, and it is 
not possible to reject or treat as spurious any of the sense perceptible, gen¬ 
erally received, or intellected things that are opposed to anything in it, 
they are then of the opinion that the thing may be defended by it being 
said to be true because it was reported by one for whom it is impermissi¬ 
ble to have ever lied or erred. And these [dialectical theologians] say 
about this part of the religion what those first ones said about all of it. So 
these [dialectical theologians] are of the opinion that they defend religions 
in this way. 

[112] A group of these [dialectical theologians] 12 are of the opinion that 
they may defend things like this—that is, ones imagined to be repulsive— 
by pursuing the rest of the religions and finding what is repulsive in 
them. If a follower of those religions wants to blame something in the reli¬ 
gion of these [dialectical theologians], they confront him with the repul¬ 
sive things in his religion 13 and thereby ward him away from their 
religion. 

Others came to the opinion that the arguments they brought forth to 
defend things like this were not sufficient to validate them completely so 
that their adversary's silence would be due to his holding them valid, 
rather than to his being incapable of countering them by argument. So 
they were obliged to use things that would compel him to refrain from 
encounter either from shame and being outmaneuvered or from fear of 
something abhorrent befalling him. 

With others, when the validity of their religion was such they had no 
doubts about it, [113] they were of the opinion that they would defend it 
before others, make it attractive, remove suspicion from it, and ward their 
adversaries away from it by any chance thing. They did not care whether 
they used falsehood, deceit, slander, or disdain, for they were of the opin¬ 
ion that one of two [kinds of] men would oppose their religion. He would 
either be an enemy, and it is permissible to use falsehood and deceit to 

12. From the way Alfarabi presents this and the following two groups, as contrasted 
with the way he introduces and concludes groups a and b, these three appear to be subdi¬ 
visions of b. 

13. Literally, "in the religion of those" iff milla ula’ika )—that is, of those other people. 



84 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


warn him off and conquer him, as is the case in struggle and warfare. 14 Or 
he would not be an enemy but one who, due to the weakness of his intel¬ 
lect and discernment, is ignorant of the good fortune for him from this 
religion; and it is permissible to bring a human being to his good fortune 
by means of falsehood and deceit, just as that is done with women and 
children. 

14. The terms are al-jihad and al-harb. 



Book of Religion 




The translation 


This translation is based on the Arabic text edited by Muhsin Mahdi. 1 The 
numbered sections in the translation correspond to those in the Arabic text 
and the numerals within square brackets to its page numbers. I have, how¬ 
ever, created additional paragraphing within the numbered sections in 
order to reflect what appear to me to be important steps in Alfarabi's argu¬ 
ment. Unfortunately, I did not learn of Lawrence V. Berman's draft transla¬ 
tion of this work —On Religion, Jurisprudence, and Political Science —until 
very late in my own efforts and was therefore not able to benefit from it. 


The argument of the work 

Medieval political philosophy first recommends itself to us because its 
concerns are so similar to our own. It is rooted in a world affected by rev¬ 
elation and revelation's claim to knowledge about all human matters— 
knowledge that surpasses the understanding one might acquire through 
the pursuit of philosophy. Among the medieval political philosophers, 
those writing within the Islamic tradition are especially insistent upon 
evaluating the merit of that claim, that is, upon investigating how revela- 


i. See Abii Nasr al-Farabi, Kitab al-Milla wa Nusus Ukhra, edited, with an introduction 
and notes, by Muhsin Mahdi (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1968). The text of the Book of Religion 
is on pp. 41-66. Mahdi's edition is based on the University of Leiden Library Manuscript 
Cod. Or. 1002 and the summary from the Akhlaq 290 manuscript of the Taymuriyya collec¬ 
tion in the Egyptian National Library, Cairo. 


87 



88 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


tion affects unaided human reflection. And they do so in such a manner as 
to give each side its due or in such a manner as to keep alive the deep ten¬ 
sion between the religious and the philosophical approaches. Alfarabi, 
widely recognized as the founder of medieval Islamic political philoso¬ 
phy, is best known for his inquiries into this issue. Of all his writings, the 
Book of Religion addresses it most directly and explicitly. It explores the 
relationship between philosophy and religion, on the one hand, and 
strives to provide a correct understanding of what that relationship 
teaches us about political life on the other. 

The basic teaching of Alfarabi's Book of Religion is that virtuous reli¬ 
gion governs a political community and is subordinate to practical, as 
well as to theoretical, philosophy. Although he speaks of non-virtuous 
religion, he does so only to distinguish its various species from virtu¬ 
ous religion. Moreover, the size of the political community ruled by vir¬ 
tuous religion does not greatly concern Alfarabi. It may be "a tribe, a 
city or district, a great nation, or many nations" (section 1). Virtuous 
religion is by no means limited or diminished insofar as it is subordi¬ 
nated to philosophy. To the contrary, such a subordination vouches for 
the truth of the opinions and actions its founder prescribes for the peo¬ 
ple who follow it. 

To persuade us of the merit of such a novel view of religion, Alfarabi 
must bring us to think anew about the meaning of revelation, rulership, 
and the ruler's craft, as well as about political science. In fact, the Book of 
Religion is really more about political science than it is about religion. Even 
though the treatise begins with the word "religion" ( al-milla ) and ends with 
the assertion that a common religion is needed to bring about all that has 
been set forth heretofore, by far the greater part of the treatise is devoted to 
a discussion of political science. 2 In only one other of Alfarabi's numerous 
writings is political science expounded upon at such length, namely, Chap¬ 
ter 5 of the Enumeration of the Sciences. Apart from these two, the subject 
arises in his other writings only in passing, or to illustrate a larger theme. 

As was noted in the introduction to the Enumeration of the Sciences, 
Chapter 5, political science as presented there falls short insofar as it is 
unable to explain everything alluded to in that treatise, especially the con- 


2. The treatise consists of 31 sections: sections 1-27 plus sections i4a-d. Of these, sec¬ 
tions 1-10 concern religion in general and virtuous religion in particular, while sections 
11-27 are devoted to political science, that is, political science simply (section 11 to section 
15, paragraph 1) and political science that provides an account of the world consonant 
with revelation (section 15, paragraph 2, to section 27). 



Book of Religion 89 


cerns of jurisprudence and theology. Even though the exposition of these 
two arts follows that of political science, neither the first nor the second 
account of political science addresses the religious themes central to them. 
By closing with a discussion of jurisprudence and theology, the Enumera¬ 
tion of the Sciences suggests what still needs to be accounted for. Insofar as 
the Book of Religion opens with a discussion of religion centered in polit¬ 
ical community, then moves to political science, it seems to represent 
Alfarabi's reply to this need. 

By the way he lets the exposition of the Book of Religion unfold, Alfarabi 
introduces the idea that religion is dependent on philosophy, theoretical 
as well as practical (see section 5), and that jurisprudence is both a part of 
political science and dependent on practical philosophy (see section 10). 
The importance thus attached to practical philosophy obliges Alfarabi to 
provide at least another account of political science. He does more: as in 
the Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, so, too, in the Book of Religion, he 
provides the reader with two accounts of political science. Features com¬ 
mon to the two accounts in the two works notwithstanding, they are not 
completely congruent. Though the first account of political science in the 
Book of Religion has just as many deficiencies as the first account of politi¬ 
cal science in the Enumeration of the Sciences, the second account in the Book 
of Religion goes beyond its Enumeration of the Sciences counterpart to pro¬ 
vide what is needed. 3 

To gain an appreciation of these different accounts of political science 
and their implications, it is important to look more closely at the formal 
characteristics of the Book of Religion, and especially at the way Alfarabi 
presents virtuous religion from the outset as highly similar to political sci¬ 
ence. For example, the criterion used to distinguish virtuous religion from 
non-virtuous religion—that it strives toward the end of attaining true 
happiness for the inhabitants of the community—is precisely the one used 
to distinguish virtuous from non-virtuous political rule (see section 1 with 
section 14a). There are also incomplete parallels such that the reader is 
obliged to make the unstated connection: thus the discussion of the way 
the virtuous religious ruler sets down laws that must be qualified as 
divine to achieve his purpose closely resembles the discussion of the way 


3. As I indicated in the introduction to the Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, the 
parallel passages between the two works are highly similar. Indeed, the accounts pre¬ 
sented in the Book of Religion overlap, at times almost word for word, with those set forth in 
the Enumeration of the Sciences. Nonetheless, here, as is so often the case with the writings of 
Alfarabi, one must be alert to the subtle distinctions between things that are similar. 



90 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


the virtuous political ruler sets down something like divine laws, even 
though they are never identified as such, to achieve his end (see sections 1, 
end, and 4 with sections 5 and 27). Only by explicitly distinguishing the 
kinds of laws set down by each can one fathom the point of Alfarabi's ever 
so detailed parallel constructions. Another point of similarity concerns the 
arrangements to be made so that there can be an orderly succession to the 
virtuous religious ruler or to the virtuous political ruler (see sections 7-9 
with sections i4b-i4d). Again, in the opening lines of the treatise, religion 
is referred to not as creed (din) or faith (i'man), but as rulership (ri’asa)} 
And from the very beginning of the treatise, the founder of a religion is 
referred to as a supreme or first ruler (ra’is awwal) rather than as a 
prophet. In fact, the term "prophet" almost never occurs in the treatise. 
The only time it comes close to having its normal significance is in a pas¬ 
sage explaining that religion should include opinions about what 
prophecy is and should provide the populace with descriptions of 
prophets from earlier times (section 2, but see also section 3). 

By describing religion as though it were political in character, Alfarabi 
approaches the subject from a perspective broader than that normally 
taken by the worshiper. Generally, the worshiper is content to know how 
jurisprudence and theology function, what the basic opinions reached in 
either one are, and how the succession of religious leaders is ordered. 
Such information is sufficient for instructing others in the religion or for 
defending the religion from its enemies (section 6). Here, however, 
Alfarabi goes further and seeks to explain the reasons behind the practices 
and opinions found in religion as well as to suggest the parallels between 
religion and other arts, such as political science and philosophy. This 
broader perspective forces the worshiper to raise new kinds of questions 
and prods those who refuse to think about religion because they do not 
take its claims seriously. By making the interconnections between religion 
and politics so patent, Alfarabi compels his readers to ask more pointed 
questions about revelation and to investigate how people who claim to 
have revelation organize the communities they rule. 

4. Later, however, religion is said to be almost synonymous with creed (section 4). The 
term "faith" is, nonetheless, absent from the treatise, and "belief" (i'tiqad) occurs only 
twice—once to suggest what allows someone to have opinions (section 9) and again, in the 
plural (i'tiqadat), in apposition to, and as distinct from, opinions (section 27, end). "Opin¬ 
ions" (dr a) are consistently referred to where the reader would expect to see a reference to 
beliefs. 



Book of Religion 91 


At some point, one must query how virtuous religion is to be appre¬ 
hended by those who look upon it from outside the community or by those 
who, members of the community or not, wish to grasp better the way it 
works within the community. Alfarabi's explanation that it is similar to 
philosophy, even to the extent of admitting the practical and theoretical 
divisions of philosophy (section 5), shows how it is to be understood. He 
goes a step further and identifies both the practical and the theoretical 
divisions within religion as being subordinate to philosophy. The practical 
is so because its particular actions are classified under the universals of 
practical philosophy. And the demonstrative proofs of what is claimed in 
the theoretical part of religion are to be found in theoretical philosophy, 
even though these things are taken in religion without demonstrative 
proofs. When these universals are taken over by religion, they become 
more particular. Indeed, restricted so as to apply to a certain setting or peo¬ 
ple, they are really particulars. Whether the reasons for the conditions 
restricting these universals are given in religion or not, they are known in 
philosophy. That is, philosophy understands what is set forth in religion. 
The same holds for the demonstrations pertaining to the theoretical part of 
religion: philosophy gives them, whether religion is concerned about them 
or not. 

Practical and theoretical philosophy are, therefore, first mentioned 
explicitly in the Book of Religion simply as means for preserving the opin¬ 
ions and actions passed on by revelation to the first ruler in virtuous 
religion. That admission leads to the further statement that religion is 
subordinate to philosophy, practical as well as theoretical. And that 
statement, in turn, prompts the change in the discussion from religion to 
political science. (Just as political science is mentioned only in the final 
section of the first part of the book—that is, section 10—so is religion 
mentioned only in the final words of the second part of the book—that 
is, at the end of section 27.) Finally, the discussion of political science 
leads to the identification of the virtuous kingly craft and the kingly 
craft linked with revelation—that is, to the substitution of virtue for rev¬ 
elation. 

Subsequently, the first discussion of political science is followed—per¬ 
haps even replaced—by a second discussion, namely, of political science 
that is part of philosophy. This political science is able to provide a 
description of the way the universe is ordered, and its investigation cul¬ 
minates in the assertion that theoretical philosophy alone is able to arrive 



92 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


at an understanding of the truths behind the theoretical opinions put forth 
in virtuous religion, as well as that religion is a necessary element of any 
well-ordered political community. To appreciate the significance of this 
conclusion, it is necessary to learn what Alfarabi has to say about both 
kinds of political science. 



Book of Religion 


[43] 1. Religion is opinions and actions, determined and restricted 
with stipulations and prescribed for a community by their first ruler, 1 
who seeks to obtain through their practicing it a specific purpose with 
respect to them or by means of them. 

The community may be a tribe, a city or district, a great nation, or 
many nations. 

If the first ruler is virtuous and his rulership truly virtuous, then in 
what he prescribes he seeks only to obtain, for himself and for everyone 
under his rulership, the ultimate happiness that is truly happiness; and 
that religion will be virtuous religion. If his rulership is ignorant, 2 then in 
what he prescribes he seeks only to obtain, for himself by means of them, 
one of the ignorant goods—either necessary good, that is, health and bod¬ 
ily well-being; or wealth; or pleasure; or honor and glory; or conquest—to 
win that good, be happy with it to the exclusion of them, and make those 
under his rulership tools he uses to arrive at his purpose and to retain in 
his possession. Or he seeks to obtain this good for them to the exclusion of 
himself, or both for himself and them; these two are the most virtuous of 
the ignorant rulers. If that rulership of his is errant, in that he presumes 
himself to have virtue and wisdom and those under his rulership pre- 


1. A "first ruler" ( ra’is awwal) may or may not be first in time, but is always first in 
rank. That is, he may be the supreme ruler who founds the religion, or the one who suc¬ 
ceeds the founder but has full powers as a lawgiver; see below, sections 7-9,14b, and 18. 

2. The different kinds of ignorant cities are described by Alfarabi in the Political 
Regime; see Alfarabi, The Political Writings: "Political Regime" and Other Texts, ed. and trans. 
Charles E. Butterworth (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming), sections 93-119. 


93 



94 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


sume and believe that of him without him being like that [in fact], then he 
seeks that [44] he and those under his rulership obtain something pre¬ 
sumed to be ultimate happiness without it being truly so. If his rulership 
is deceptive, in that he purposely strives for that 3 without those under his 
rulership noticing it, then the people under his rulership believe and pre¬ 
sume that he has virtue and wisdom; on the surface he seeks in what he 
prescribes that he and they obtain ultimate happiness, whereas 4 under¬ 
neath it is that he obtain one of the ignorant goods by means of them. 

Now the craft of the virtuous first ruler is kingly and joined with rev¬ 
elation from God. Indeed, he determines the actions and opinions in the 
virtuous religion by means of revelation. This occurs in one or both of 
two ways: one is that they are all revealed to him as determined; the sec¬ 
ond is that he determines them by means of the faculty he acquires from 
revelation and from the Revealer, may He be exalted, so that the stipula¬ 
tions with which he determines the virtuous opinions and actions are 
disclosed to him by means of it. Or some come about in the first way and 
some in the second way. It has already been explained in theoretical sci¬ 
ence how the revelation of God, may He be exalted, to the human being 
receiving the revelation comes about and how the faculty acquired from 
revelation and from the Revealer occurs in a human being. 

2. Some of the opinions in virtuous religion are about theoretical things 
and some about voluntary things. 

Among the theoretical are those that describe God, may He be exalted. 
Then there are some that describe the spiritual beings, their ranks in them¬ 
selves, their stations in relation to God, may He be exalted, and what each 
one of them does. Then there are some about the coming into being of the 
world, as well as some that describe the world, its parts, and the ranks of 
its parts; how [45] the primary bodies were generated and that some of 
the primary bodies are the sources of all the other bodies that are gradu¬ 
ally generated and pass away; how all the other bodies are generated 
from the ones that are the sources of bodies and the ranks of these; how 
the things the world encompasses are linked together and organized and 
that whatever occurs with respect to them is just and has no injustice; and 
how each one of them is related to God, may He be exalted, and to the 


3. As becomes clear at the end of this sentence, this refers to the deceptive ruler striv¬ 
ing to "obtain one of the ignorant goods." 

4. Reading amma for imma ("either") at 44: 4 and 44: 5. 



Book of Religion 95 


spiritual beings. Then there are some about the coming into being of the 
human being and soul occurring in him, as well as about the intellect, its 
rank in the world, and its station in relation to God and the spiritual 
beings- 5 Then there are some that describe what prophecy is and what 
revelation is like and how it comes into being. Then there are some that 
describe death and the afterlife and, with respect to the afterlife, the hap¬ 
piness to which the most virtuous and the righteous proceed and the mis¬ 
ery to which the most depraved and the profligate proceed. 

Among the second type of opinions are those that describe the 
prophets, the most virtuous kings, the righteous rulers, and the leaders of 
the right way and of truth who succeeded one another in former times; 
and those that relate what they had in common, what good actions were 
characteristic of each one, and where their souls and the souls of those 
who followed and emulated them in cities and nations ended up in the 
afterlife. There are those that describe the most depraved kings, the prof¬ 
ligate rulers exercising authority over the inhabitants of ignorant commu¬ 
nities, and the leaders of the errant way who existed in former times; and 
those that relate what they had in common, what evil actions were char¬ 
acteristic of each one, and where their souls and the souls of those who 
followed and emulated them in cities and nations ended up in the after¬ 
life. There are those that describe the most virtuous kings, righteous men, 
and leaders of truth in the present time; and those that mention what they 
have in common with those who went before and what good actions are 
characteristic of them. There are those that describe the profligate rulers, 
the leaders of the errant way, and the inhabitants of ignorant communities 
in the present time; and those that relate what they have in common with 
those who went before, what evil actions are characteristic of them, and 
where their souls will end up in the afterlife. 

The descriptions of the things comprised by the opinions of religion 
ought to be such as to bring the citizens to imagine everything in the 
city—kings, rulers, and servants; their ranks, the way they are linked 
together, and the way some yield to others; and everything prescribed to 
them—so that what is described will be likenesses the citizens will follow 
in their ranks and actions. 

These, then, are the opinions that are in religion. [46] 

5. Or, if the pronoun is interpreted as referring to man rather than to the intellect, the 
phrase would read: "Then there are some about the coming into being of the human being 
and soul and intellect occurring in him, his rank in the world, and his station in relation to 
God and the spiritual beings." 



96 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


3. As for actions, they are, first of all, the actions and speeches by which 
God is praised and extolled. Then there are those that praise the spiritual 
beings and the angels. Then there are those that praise the prophets, the 
most virtuous kings, the righteous rulers, and the leaders of the right way 
who have gone before. Then there are those that blame the most 
depraved kings, the profligate 6 rulers, and the leaders of the errant way 
who went before and that censure their activities. Then there are those 
that praise the most virtuous kings, the righteous rulers, and the leaders 
of the right way in this time and that blame those of this time who are 
their opposites. 

Then, after all this, are determining the actions by which the mutual 
dealings of the inhabitants of the cities are regulated—either regarding 
what a human being ought to do with respect to himself 7 or regarding 
how he ought to deal with others—and bringing about cognizance 8 of 
what justice is with respect to each particular instance of these actions. 

This, then, is the sum of what virtuous religion comprises. 


4. "Religion" ( milla) and "creed" (din) are almost synonymous, as are 
"law" (sharpa ) 9 and "tradition" (s unna). Most often, the latter two signify 
and apply to the determined actions in the two parts of religion. It may be 
possible, as well, for the determined opinions to be called "law," so that 
"law," "religion," and "creed" would be synonymous, given that religion 
consists of two parts: specifying opinions and determining actions. 

The first type of opinions specified in religion is twofold: an opinion 
designated by its proper name, which customarily signifies it itself; or an 

6. Reading al-fajar, with Dunlop, instead of al-fujjar, with Mahdi; see the review of 
Kitab al-Milla by D. M. Dunlop in the journal of the American Oriental Society 89 (1969): 
801. 

7. Or, alternatively, "by himself" (bi-nafsih). 

8. See Selected Aphorisms, note. 5, and also Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, note 
3. As in the latter text, the terms here derive from the second form of 'arafa; thus, the ques¬ 
tion is one of making the inhabitants of the cities aware of, or acquainting them with, 
something, rather than providing them with knowledge or science about it. 

9. Throughout this translation, shari'a is rendered as "law," the verb sharra’a as "leg¬ 
islate," and the phrase wadi' al-shari'a as "lawgiver." The term namiis does not occur in this 
work. For din, see Alfarabi, Philosophy of Plato, section 7, in Alfarabi, The Political Writings: 
Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, trans. Muhsin Mahdi (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 
forthcoming). The term sunna usually refers to the practices that have come to be tradition¬ 
ally accepted within the religion, because they can be traced back to something the Prophet 
said or did. 



Book of Religion 97 


opinion designated by the name of what is similar to it. 10 Thus the deter¬ 
mined opinions in the virtuous religion are either the truth or a likeness of 
the truth. In general, truth is what a human being ascertains, either by 
himself 11 by means of primary knowledge, or by demonstration. Now any 
religion in which the first type of opinions does not comprise what a 
human being can ascertain either from himself 12 or by demonstration and 
in which there is no likeness of anything he can ascertain in one of these 
two ways is an errant religion. 

5. Thus, virtuous religion is similar to philosophy. Just as philosophy is 
partly theoretical and partly practical, so it is with religion: the calculative 
theoretical part is what a human being is not able to do when he knows it, 
[47] whereas the practical part is what a human being is able to do when 
he knows it. The practical things in religion are those whose universals 
are in practical philosophy. That is because the practical things in religion 
are those universals made determinate by stipulations restricting them, 
and what is restricted by stipulations is more particular than what is pro¬ 
nounced unqualifiedly without stipulations: for instance, our saying "the 
human being who is writing" is more particular than our saying "the 
human being." Therefore, all virtuous laws are subordinate to the univer¬ 
sals of practical philosophy. The theoretical opinions that are in religion 
have their demonstrative proofs in theoretical philosophy and are taken 
in religion without demonstrative proofs. 

Therefore, the two parts of which religion consists are subordinate to 
philosophy. For something is said to be a part of a science or to be subor¬ 
dinate to a science in one of two ways: either the demonstrative proofs of 
what is assumed in it without demonstrative proofs occur in that science, 
or the science comprising the universals is the one that gives the reasons 
for the particulars subordinate to it. The practical part of philosophy is, 
therefore, the one that gives the reasons for the stipulations by which 
actions are made determinate: that for the sake of which they were stipu¬ 
lated and the purpose intended to be obtained by means of those stipula- 


10. Alfarabi is referring to the first type of opinions set forth in section 2—those about 
theoretical things. When speaking of the way humans are brought into being, it is possible 
to use the proper name for what occurs. When speaking about God or the spiritual beings, 
similes are used. 

11. Or, alternatively, "directly" ( bi-nafsih). 

12. Or, alternatively, "immediately" (min dhatih). 



98 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


tions. Further, if to know something is to know it demonstratively, then 
this part of philosophy is the one that gives the demonstrative proof for 
the determined actions that are in virtuous religion. And since it is the the¬ 
oretical part of philosophy that gives demonstrative proofs for the theo¬ 
retical part of religion, it is philosophy, then, that gives the demonstrative 
proofs of what virtuous religion encompasses. Therefore, the kingly craft 
responsible for what the virtuous religion consists of is subordinate to 
philosophy. 

6. Dialectic yields strong presumption about all or most of what demon¬ 
strative proofs yield certainty about, and rhetoric persuades about most of 
what is not such as to be proven by demonstration or looked into by 
dialectic. Moreover, virtuous religion is not only for philosophers or only 
for someone of such a station as to understand what is spoken about only 
in a philosophic manner. Rather, most people who are taught the opinions 
of religion and instructed in them and brought to accept its actions are not 
of such a station—and that is [48] either due to nature or because they are 
occupied with other things. Yet they are not people who fail to under¬ 
stand generally accepted or persuasive things. For that reason, both 
dialectic and rhetoric are of major value for verifying the opinions of reli¬ 
gion for the citizens and for defending, supporting, and establishing those 
opinions in their souls, as well as for defending those opinions when 
someone appears who desires to deceive the followers of the religion by 
means of argument, lead them into error, and contend against the religion. 

7. It may happen accidentally that the first ruler does not determine all 
of the actions and give an exhaustive account of them, but determines 
most of them; and with some of those he does determine, it may happen 
that he does not give an exhaustive account of all their stipulations. On 
the contrary, for diverse reasons that occur, many actions such as to be 
determined may remain without determination: death may overtake him 
and carry him away before he has covered all of them; necessary occupa¬ 
tions, such as wars and other things, may keep him from it; or it may be 
that he only determines actions for each incident and each occurrence he 
observes or is asked about, at which time he determines, legislates, and 
establishes a tradition regarding what ought to be done for that kind of 
incident. Since not everything that can occur does occur in his time or in 
his country, many things remain that could occur in another time or in 
another country, each needing a specifically determined action, [49] and 



Book of Religion 99 


he will have legislated nothing about them. Or else he devotes himself to 
those actions he presumes or knows to be fundamental, from which some¬ 
one else can extrapolate the remaining ones: he legislates about the man¬ 
ner and amount of what ought to be done with these and leaves the rest, 
knowing that it will be possible for someone else to extrapolate them by 
adopting his intention and following in his footsteps. Or he decides to 
begin with legislating and determining the actions that are of the greatest 
efficacy, use, value, and benefit, so that the city will cohere and its affairs 
will be linked and organized: he legislates about those things alone and 
leaves the rest for a moment of leisure or so that someone else—a contem¬ 
porary or a successor—can extrapolate them by following in his footsteps. 

8. If, after his death, someone succeeds him who is like him in all 
respects, then the successor will be the one who determines what the first 
did not determine. And not only this, but it is also up to him to alter much 
of what the first had legislated and to determine it in another way, when 
he knows that this is best for his time—not because the first erred, but 
because the first made a determination according to what was best for his 
time and this one makes a determination according to what is best subse¬ 
quent to the time of the first, this being the kind of thing the first would 
alter also, were he to observe it. It is the same if the second is followed by 
a third [50] who is like the second in all respects, and the third by a fourth: 
it is up to the one who comes after to determine, on his own, what he does 
not find determined and to alter what his predecessor determined; for, 
were his predecessor still here, he too would alter what the one who came 
after altered. 

9. Now if one of those righteous leaders who are really kings should 
pass away and not be succeeded by one who is like him in all respects, it 
will be necessary—concerning everything done in the cities under the 
rulership of the predecessor—for the successor to follow in the footsteps 
of the predecessor with respect to what he determines; he should not do 
anything differently nor make any alteration, but should let everything 
the predecessor determined remain the way it was and look into anything 
that needs to be given a determination and was not declared by the pred¬ 
ecessor, inferring and extrapolating itfrom the things the first determined 
by declaring them. 

Thus, the art of jurisprudence would then be requisite. It enables a 
human being to make a sound determination of each thing the lawgiver 



100 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


did not declare specifically by extrapolating it or inferring it from the 
things he determined by declaring them and to verify that on the basis of 
the lawgiver's purpose in the religion he legislated with respect to the 
nation for which it was legislated. Now this verification is not possible 
unless his belief in the opinions of that religion is correct and he possesses 
the virtues that are virtues in that religion. Whoever is like that is a jurist. 

10. Since a determination takes place with respect to two things—opin¬ 
ions and actions—the art of jurisprudence must have two parts: a part 
concerning opinions and a part concerning actions. 13 

Thus, the jurist concerned with [51] actions must have exhaustive 
knowledge of all the actions the lawgiver has declared specifically. Decla¬ 
ration sometimes takes place through a statement and sometimes through 
an action of the lawgiver, his action taking the place of saying that a partic¬ 
ular thing ought to be done in such and such a way. In addition, the jurist 
must be cognizant of the laws legislated by the first ruler for a certain 
moment and then replaced with others he retained so that in his own time 
the jurist follows in the traces of the latter ones, not the former. The jurist 
must further be cognizant of the language spoken by the first ruler; of the 
customary ways in which the people of his time used their language; and 
of what was used in it to signify something metaphorically, while in reality 
being the name of something else, so that he does not presume that when 
the name of one thing was used metaphorically for another thing, the first 
thing was meant, or presume this thing to have been the other thing. In 
addition, the jurist must be quite clever at recognizing the meaning 
intended by an equivocal name in the context in which it is used, as well as 
at recognizing equivocalness in speech. Also, he must be quite clever at 
recognizing when an expression is used in an unqualified sense, whereas 
the intention of the speaker is more restricted; at recognizing when an 
expression, taken literally, has a restricted meaning, whereas the intention 
of the speaker is more general; and at recognizing when an expression is 
used in a restricted, or general, or unqualified sense, whereas the intention 
of the speaker is what it means literally. He must be cognizant of what is 
generally accepted and what is customary. In addition, he must have a 
capacity for grasping similarities and differences in things, as well as a 

13. Compare the account of jurisprudence in what follows with that given by Alfarabi 
in the Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, sections 4-5. 



Book of Religion 101 


capacity for distinguishing what necessarily follows something from what 
does not. This comes about through a good natural disposition and 
through familiarity with the art. He must find out the lawgiver's utter¬ 
ances for everything he legislated in speech and his actions for whatever 
he legislated by doing it rather than by uttering it: by observing and listen¬ 
ing to him, if he is [52] his contemporary and companion, or by having 
recourse to reports about him; and reports about him are either generally 
accepted or persuasive, each of these being either written or unwritten. 

The jurist concerned with the opinions determined in religion ought 
already to know what the jurist concerned with practices knows. 

Jurisprudence about the practical matters of religion therefore com¬ 
prises only things that are particulars of the universals encompassed by 
political science; it is, therefore, a part of political science and subordinate 
to practical philosophy. And jurisprudence about the [theoretical or] scien¬ 
tific matters of religion comprises either particulars of the universals 
encompassed by theoretical philosophy or those that are likenesses of 
things subordinate to theoretical philosophy; it is, therefore, a part of theo¬ 
retical philosophy and subordinate to it, whereas theoretical science is the 
source. 

11. Political science investigates happiness first of all. It brings about 
cognizance that happiness is of two types: happiness presumed to be hap¬ 
piness without being such, and happiness that is truly happiness. The lat¬ 
ter is the one sought for its own sake; at no time is it sought in order to 
obtain something else by it; indeed, all other things are sought in order to 
obtain this one, and when it is obtained, the search is given up; it does not 
come about in this life, but rather in the next life which is after this one; 
and it is called ultimate happiness. Examples of what is presumed to be 
happiness but is not such are affluence, pleasures, 14 honor and being glo¬ 
rified, or anything else sought and acquired in this life that the multitude 
calls goods. [53] 

12. Then it investigates the voluntary actions, ways of life, moral habits, 
states of character, and dispositions until it gives an exhaustive account of 
all of them and covers them in detail. 


14. Reading aw al-ladhdhat, with Leiden Manuscript Or. 1002, rather than wa al- 
ladhdhat, with Mahdi. 



102 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


13. Then it explains that these cannot all be found in one human being 
nor be done by one human being, but can be done and actually manifest 
themselves only by being distributed among an association of people. 

It explains that when they are distributed among an association of 
people, the one charged with one kind cannot undertake or do it unless 
another person assists him by undertaking the kind the latter has been 
charged with; nor can the latter undertake what he has been charged with 
unless a third person assists him by undertaking the kind he has been 
charged with. Moreover, it is not impossible to find a person who cannot 
undertake the task he has been charged with unless assisted by an associ¬ 
ation of people, each one of whom undertakes the kind of thing he has 
been charged with: for example, someone charged with undertaking agri¬ 
culture cannot complete his task unless a carpenter assists him by prepar¬ 
ing wood for the plow, a blacksmith by preparing steel for the plow, and 
a cowherd by preparing oxen for the yoke. 

Thus it explains that it is not possible to reach the purpose of volun¬ 
tary actions and dispositions, unless they 15 are distributed among a very 
large association of people—either each assigned to a single individual in 
the association or each assigned to a single group in the association—so 
that the groups in the association cooperate, through the actions and dis¬ 
positions in each, to perfect the purpose of the whole association in the 
same way that the organs of a human being cooperate, through the capac¬ 
ities in each, to perfect the purpose of the whole body. 

[It explains] that it is therefore necessary for the association of people 
to live close together in a single place. And it enumerates the sorts of asso¬ 
ciations of people that live close together in a single place: there is a civic 
association, a national association, and others. [54] 

14. Then it distinguishes the ways of life, moral habits, and dispositions 
that, when practiced in cities or nations, make their dwellings prosper and 
their inhabitants obtain goods in this life here below, and ultimate happi¬ 
ness in the afterlife; and it sets them apart from those not like that. Only 
those voluntary actions, ways of life, moral habits, states of character, and 
dispositions by which ultimate happiness is attained are virtuous; only 
they are goods; and they are the ones that are truly noble. Any other 
actions and dispositions are presumed to be goods, virtues, or noble, but 
are not such—on the contrary, they are truly evils. 


15. Literally, "their kinds" or "the kinds of them," (anwa’uha). 



Book of Religion 103 


14a. It explains that the things such as to be distributed in a city, in 
cities, in a nation, or in nations so as to be practiced in common are only 
brought about by means of a rulership that establishes those actions and 
dispositions in the city or nation and strives to preserve them for the peo¬ 
ple so that they do not disappear or become extinct. The rulership by 
which those ways of life and dispositions are established in a city or 
nation and preserved for the people cannot come about except by a craft, 
art, disposition, or faculty that gives rise to the actions by which they are 
established and preserved. This craft is the craft of the king and the kingly 
craft, or whatever a human being wants to call it instead of "kingly." And 
the regime is the work of this craft; that is, it performs the actions by 
which those ways of life and those dispositions are established in a city or 
nation and preserved for the people. This craft consists of cognizance of 
all the actions with which one goes about establishing, first, and preserv¬ 
ing afterwards. 

The rulership that establishes in a city or nation and preserves for the 
people the ways of life and dispositions [55] by means of which ultimate 
happiness is obtained is virtuous rulership. The kingly craft by means of 
which this rulership comes about is the virtuous kingly craft. The regime 
that comes into being through this craft is the virtuous regime. The city or 
nation subject to this regime is the virtuous city and the virtuous nation. 
The human being who is a part of this city or nation is the virtuous human 
being. 

The rulership, the kingly craft, and the regime that do not aim at 
obtaining the ultimate happiness that is truly happiness but rather aim at 
attaining one of the goods particularly characteristic of this world here 
below—that is, the ones the multitude presumes to be goods—are not vir¬ 
tuous; on the contrary, they are called ignorant rulership, ignorant 
regime, and ignorant craft: indeed, they are not called "kingly" because, 
according to the Ancients, kingship was what came about through virtu¬ 
ous kingly craft. The city or the nation subject to the actions and disposi¬ 
tions established in it by the ignorant rulership is called the ignorant city 
or nation. The human being who is part of this city is called an ignorant 
human being. 16 This rulership and these cities and nations are divided in 
several ways; each one of them is called by the name of the purpose it is 
intent upon among the things presumed to be good: either pleasures, hon¬ 
ors, wealth, or something else. 


16. Or, perhaps, "a human being in a state of ignorance" (insan jahilt). 



104 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


Now it is not impossible for a human being who is part of the virtuous 
city to be living [56] in an ignorant city, voluntarily or involuntarily. That 
human being is a part foreign to that city, and he may be likened to an ani¬ 
mal that happens to have the legs of an animal belonging to an inferior 
species. Similarly, when someone who is part of an ignorant city lives in a 
virtuous city, he may be likened to an animal that has the head of an ani¬ 
mal belonging to a superior species. 17 For this reason, the most virtuous 
persons, forced to dwell in ignorant cities due to the non-existence of the 
virtuous city, need to migrate to the virtuous city, if it happens to come 
into being at a certain moment. 

14b. [Political science explains] that virtuous rulership is of two types: a 
first rulership and a rulership dependent on it. First rulership is the one 
that first establishes the virtuous ways of life and dispositions in the city 
or nation without their having existed among the people before that, and 
it converts them from the ignorant ways of life to the virtuous ways of life. 
The person undertaking this rulership is the first ruler. 

The rulership dependent on the first is the one that follows in the steps 
of the first rulership with regard to its actions. The one who undertakes 
this rulership is called ruler of the tradition and king of the tradition. His 
rulership is based on an existing tradition. 

The first virtuous kingly craft consists of cognizance of all the actions 
that facilitate establishing the virtuous ways of life and dispositions in 
cities and nations, preserving them for the people, and guarding and 
keeping them from the inroad of something from the ignorant ways of 
life—all of those being sicknesses that befall the virtuous cities. In this 
sense, it is like the medical craft; for the latter consists of cognizance of all 
the actions that establish health in a human being, preserve it for him, and 
guard it from any sickness that might occur. [57] 

14c. It is clear that the physician ought to be cognizant that opposites 
ought to be combated by opposites, be cognizant also that fever is to be 
combated by chill, and be cognizant further that jaundice should be com¬ 
bated by barley-water or tamarind-water. Of these three, some are more 
general than others: the most general is that opposites ought to be com- 


17. Literally, "another, more venerable species" ( naw' akhar ashraf minh). Similarly, a 
literal translation of the contrasting phrase, "inferior species," would be "another species 
subordinate to it" (naw' akhar diinah). 



Book of Religion 105 


bated by opposites; the most particular is that jaundice ought to be com¬ 
bated by barley-water; and our saying that "fever is to be combated by 
chill" is a mean between the more general and the more particular. 

However, when the physician cures, he cures the bodies of individuals 
and of single beings—Zayd's body, for instance, or Amr's body. In curing 
Zayd's jaundice, he is not content with what he is cognizant of concerning 
opposites being combated by opposites, nor about jaundice needing to be 
combated by barley-water unless, with respect to the fever of this Zayd, 
he has, in addition, cognizance that is more particular than those things he 
is cognizant of through [the study of] his art. So he investigates whether 
this jaundice of his ought to be combated by barley-water because his 
body is cold and moist, or whether barley-water will heal the bodily 
humor, but not let him perspire, and similar things. If barley-water ought 
to be drunk, he is not content to be unqualifiedly cognizant of this unless 
he is cognizant, in addition, of what amount of it ought to be drunk, what 
consistency what is to be drunk ought to have, at what moment of the day 
it ought to be drunk, and in which one of Zayd's feverish states it ought to 
be drunk. So he will have determined that with regard to quantity, qual¬ 
ity, and time. Nor is it possible for him to make that determination with¬ 
out observing the sick person, so that his determination accords with 
what he observes about the state of this sick person, namely, Zayd. 

Clearly, he could not have acquired this determination from the books 
of medicine he studied and was trained on, nor from his ability to be cog¬ 
nizant of the universals and general things set down in medical books, 
but through another faculty developing from his pursuit of medical prac¬ 
tices with respect to the body of one individual after another, from his 
lengthy observation of the states of sick persons, [58] from the experience 
acquired by being occupied with curing over a long period of time, and 
from ministering to each individual. Therefore, the craft of the perfect 
physician becomes complete, to the point of performing with ease the 
actions proceeding from that craft, by means of two faculties: one is the 
ability for unqualified and exhaustive cognizance of the universals that 
are parts of his art so that nothing escapes him; then there is the faculty 
that develops in him through the lengthy practice of his art with regard to 
each individual. 

i4d. And the first kingly craft is like that. First of all, it comprises uni¬ 
versal things. In performing those actions particular to it, the ruler is not 
content to have comprehensive cognizance of universal things, or the abil- 



106 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


ity to grasp them, unless he has another faculty as well, one acquired 
through lengthy experience and observation that enables him to deter¬ 
mine actions with regard to their quantity, quality, times, and the rest of 
what actions may be determined by and stipulations placed on them— 
either with respect to each city, nation, or person, or with respect to an 
event that occurs or something that happens at particular times. For the 
actions of the kingly craft are only concerned with particular cities: I 
mean, this city and that city, this nation and that nation, or this human 
being and that human being. 

Now the faculty by means of which a human being is able to infer the 
stipulations with which to determine actions with respect to what he 
observes in each community, each city, each nation, 18 each group, or each 
person, and with respect to each occurrence in a city, a nation, [59] or a 
person, is what the Ancients call "prudence." This faculty is not acquired 
through cognizance of the universals of the art or through exhausting all 
of them, but through lengthy experience with individual instances. 

15. Political science that is a part of philosophy is limited—in what it 
investigates of the voluntary actions, ways of life, and dispositions, and in 
the rest of what it investigates—to universals and to giving their patterns. 
It also brings about cognizance of the patterns for determining particu¬ 
lars: how, by what, and by what extent they ought to be determined. It 
leaves them undetermined in actuality, because determining in actuality 
belongs to a faculty other than philosophy and perhaps because the cir¬ 
cumstances and occurrences with respect to which determination takes 
place is infinite and without limitation. 

This science has two parts. One part comprises bringing about cog¬ 
nizance of what happiness is—that is, what happiness truly is and what is 
presumed to be happiness—and enumerating the universal voluntary 
actions, ways of life, moral habits, states of character, and dispositions 
that are such as to come about in cities and nations; and it distinguishes 
the virtuous ones from the non-virtuous. Another part comprises bring¬ 
ing about cognizance of the actions by which virtuous actions and dispo¬ 
sitions are established and ordered among the inhabitants of the cities, as 
well as of the actions by which what has been established among them is 
preserved for them. 


18. Adding aw ummma umma, with Leiden Manuscript Or. 1002 and Dunlop, 801. 



Book of Religion 107 


16. Then it 19 enumerates how many sorts of non-virtuous kingly crafts 
there are. It also gives the patterns of the actions performed by each one of 
these kingly crafts in order to obtain its purpose from the inhabitants of 
the cities under its rulership. It explains that those actions, ways of life, 
and dispositions that are not virtuous are the sicknesses of virtuous cities 
and that their ways of life and regimes are the sicknesses of the virtuous 
kingly craft. The actions, ways of life, and dispositions that are in the non- 
virtuous cities are the sicknesses of virtuous cities. 

17. Then it enumerates how many reasons and tendencies there are 
because of which the virtuous rulerships and the ways of life of virtuous 
cities are frequently in danger of being transformed into [60] non-virtuous 
ways of life and dispositions and how they are transformed into the non- 
virtuous. It enumerates and brings about cognizance of [a] the actions by 
which virtuous cities and regimes are restrained so that they not be cor¬ 
rupted and not be transformed into non-virtuous ones and [b] the things 
by which it is possible to turn them back to health, if they are transformed 
and become sick. 

18. Then it explains that the actions of the first virtuous kingly craft can¬ 
not come about completely except through cognizance of the universals of 
this art; that is, by theoretical philosophy being joined to it and prudence 
being added to it. Prudence is the faculty acquired through experience 
arising from long involvement in the actions of the art with respect to sin¬ 
gle cities and nations and with respect to each single community: it is the 
ability for excellently inferring the stipulations by which the actions, ways 
of life, and dispositions are determined with respect to each community, 
each city, or each nation, either with respect to a short period of time, with 
respect to a long but limited period of time, or—if possible—with respect 
to particular times, 20 and for determining them as well with respect to 
each state that may emerge and each occurrence that may happen in a 
city, nation, or community. This is what the first virtuous kingly craft con¬ 
sists of. The one dependent on it, whose rulership is based on tradition, 
does not by nature need philosophy. 

19. The subject of all the enumerations, explanations, and so forth in what follows is 
the "political science that is a part of philosophy" of section 15. 

20. This might also mean "or with respect to all time—if possible," for the phrase is 
quite elusive: aw bi-hasab al-zaman in amkan. 



108 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


It explains that what is best and most virtuous in virtuous cities and 
nations is for their kings and rulers who succeed one another through 
time to possess the qualifications 21 of the first ruler. It brings about cog¬ 
nizance of [a] how it ought to be worked out so that these kings who suc¬ 
ceed one another possess the very same states of virtue and [b] which 
qualifications are to be sought for in the sons of the city's kings so that if 
they are found in one of them, it is to be hoped that he will become the 
same kind of king as the first ruler. In addition, it explains how he ought 
to be educated, how he is to be raised, and in what way he is to be 
instructed so that he might become a king completely. 

It explains, moreover, that the kings whose rulerships are ignorant 
need neither the universals of this art nor philosophy. [61] Rather, each 
one of them can achieve his purpose with respect to the city by means of 
the experiential faculty he attains through the kind of actions with which 
he obtains what he is intent upon and arrives at the presumed good that is 
his purpose, providing he happens to possess a thoroughly deceitful 
genius capable of inferring what he needs for determining the actions he 
is to perform and for determining the actions in which he will employ the 
inhabitants of the city. The craft by which he is a king consists of [a] things 
attained through experience—either through his own experience or 
through the experience of some other king who shares in his intention, 
pursuing his experience or schooling himself in it, and combining that 
with what he himself has acquired through experience—and [b] matters 
that he, by the deceitfulness of his genius and cunning, has inferred from 
the principles he has acquired by experience. 22 

19. Then, after that, it brings about cognizance of the ranks of the things 
in the world and of the ranks of the beings in general. It begins with the 
parts of the world that are most inferior, namely, the ones that have no 
rulership over anything at all and that give rise only to actions used for 
serving, not to actions used for ruling. 

From these, it ascends to the things that rule them without an interme- 


21. Literally, "stipulations" ( shara'it ). 

22. This marks the end of the correspondence with the Enumeration of the Sciences, 
Chapter 5, in the account of political science. What follows sets forth what might be termed 
a "political divine science or theology which keeps one eye on the theoretical sciences and 
another on human ends and actions." See Muhsin Mahdi, "Science, Philosophy, and Reli¬ 
gion in Alfarabi's Enumeration of the Sciences," in J. E. Murdoch and E. D. Sylla, eds.. The 
Cultural Context of Medieval Learning (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1975), pp. 144-45. 



Book of Religion 109 


diary, namely, the things that rule them directly. It brings about cog¬ 
nizance of their ranks with respect to rulership: what ranks they have; 
what the extent of their rulership is; that they do not yet have complete 
rulership; and that their natural traits and faculties are not sufficient for 
them on that account to have rulership of themselves so that they can dis¬ 
pense with being ruled by others, but that there must necessarily be ruler- 
ships over them governing them. 

From these, it ascends to the things that rule them directly. It brings 
about cognizance of their ranks with respect to rulership: what ranks they 
have; what the extent of their rulership is; that they do not yet have com¬ 
plete rulership; and that their natural traits and faculties are not sufficient 
for them on that account to have rulership of themselves so that they can 
dispense [62] with being ruled by others, but that there must necessarily 
be rulerships over them governing them. 

From these, it ascends to the things that rule them directly. 23 It brings 
about cognizance of their ranks with respect to rulership: what ranks they 
have; what the extent of their rulership is; and that they are not complete 
either, except that they are more complete than the rulerships below 
them. It also brings about cognizance that their natural faculties and traits 
are not yet sufficient for them to have rulership of themselves so that they 
have no ruler at all, but that there must necessarily be other rulerships 
over them governing them. 

It ascends, as well, to the things that also rule these directly. With 
regard to them, it brings about the same cognizance it brought about con¬ 
cerning the former ones. 

It does not cease ascending like this from things in lower ranks to 
things in higher ranks having more complete rulership than those below. 
In this way, it ascends from the more perfect to more and more perfect 
beings. It brings about cognizance that whenever it ascends to a higher 
rank and to a being more perfect in itself and of more perfect rulership, 
the number of beings in that rank must be fewer and each one of the 
beings in it must have greater unity in itself and less multiplicity. In addi¬ 
tion, it explains the multiplicity and unity that are in a thing. 

It does not cease ascending in the perfection of this order from one 
level of rulership to a more perfect level of rulership until it finally reaches 


23. Dunlop, 801, suggests that the immediately preceding passage from "It brings 
about cognizance. . ." to the end of this sentence "directly" be deleted, believing it to 
appear as a result of dittography. 



110 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


a level at which it is impossible for there to be anything but one being— 
one in number and one in every aspect of oneness. It is impossible as well 
for there to be a rulership above it; on the contrary, the ruler at that level 
governs everything below him—it not being at all possible for another to 
govern him—and rules everything below him. It is not possible [63] for 
there to be any deficiency in him, not in any way at all; nor is it possible 
for there to be any perfection more complete than his perfection, nor any 
existence more excellent than his existence—whereas everything below 
him has deficiency in some way—and the ranks directly next to him are 
the most perfect ranks below his level. 

20. Then, as it descends, it does not cease [bringing about cognizance 
that] the beings in each level have more multiplicity and less perfection, 
until it finally reaches the last beings, namely, the ones that perform 
servile actions. There is nothing more inferior in existence than these, nor 
is it at all possible for them to perform ruling actions. The action of the 
first, the sempiternal one, to whom nothing can be prior, cannot be a 
servile action at all. And every one of the intermediate ones in the ranks 
below the first ruler performs ruling actions toward what is below itself 
by which it serves the first ruler. 

In addition, it brings about cognizance of their harmony, of how they 
are linked together, how they are organized, how their actions are organ¬ 
ized, and how they mutually support one another so that despite their 
multiplicity they might be like one thing. This comes about due to the 
power with which that one governs them, his governance extending in 
each of them commensurate with its rank and in accordance with the 
amount of natural worth a being 24 at that level of existence must have, as 
well as with the actions that must be entrusted to it for serving, ruling, or 
doing both. 

21. Then it indicates what corresponds to these with respect to the facul¬ 
ties of the human soul. 

22. Then it indicates what corresponds to these with respect to the 
organs of the human body. 


24. Reading tna ("what," understood here as "a being"), for sense, instead of man 
("one" or "someone") at 63: 13. 



Book of Religion 111 


23. Then, it also indicates what corresponds to these with respect to the 
virtuous city, placing the king and the first ruler in the same station as 
the deity who is the first governor of the beings and of the world and the 
classes [of beings] in it. 

24. Then, it does not cease going down through the ranks among them 
until it finally reaches groups within the divisions of the inhabitants of the 
city whose actions are such that it is not possible for them to rule by means 
of them, but only to serve, [64] and whose voluntary dispositions are such 
that it is not possible [for them] to rule by means of them, but only to serve. 
The groups in the intermediate ranks have actions by means of which they 
rule what is below them and serve whomever is above them; as they move 
closer and closer to the level of the king, they are more perfect in traits and 
actions and, therefore, more perfect in rulership, until the level of the kingly 
craft is finally reached. It is clear that this is not at all a craft by which a 
human being can serve; no, it is a craft and a disposition only for ruling. 

25. Then, after that, it begins to ascend from the first ranks [in the city], 
namely, the ranks of serving, to the ranks of rulership directly above 
them. It does not cease ascending in speech and description from a lower 
level to a higher level until it finally reaches the level of the king of the city 
who rules and does not serve. 

26. Then it ascends from that level to the level of the spiritual being gov¬ 
erning the king who is the first ruler of the virtuous city, namely, the one 
set down as the trustworthy spirit, 25 and this is the one through which 
God, may He be exalted, communicates the revelation to the first ruler of 
the city. Thus it looks into what its level is and which one of the ranks of 
the spiritual beings it is. 

27. Then it does not cease ascending like this in bringing about cognizance 
of things until it finally reaches the Deity, may His praise be magnified. 

25. See the Quran 26:193. In the opening lines of the Political Regime, Alfarabi explains 
that "of the active intellect, it ought to be said that it is the trustworthy spirit and the holy 
spirit; and it is called by names resembling these two"; see Political Regime, in Alfarabi, The 
Political Writings, "Political Regime" and Other Texts, section 3; for the Arabic text, see 
Alfarabi, Kitab al-Siyasa al-Madaniyya, ed. Fauzi M. Najjar, (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 
1964), 32: 11-12. 



112 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


It explains how revelation descends from Him level by level until it 
reaches the first ruler who thus governs the city or the nation and nations 
with what revelation from God, may He be exalted, brings, so that the first 
ruler's governance also extends to every one of the divisions of the city in 
an orderly manner until it finally reaches the last divisions. It explains this 
in that God, may He be exalted, is also the governor of the virtuous city, 
just as He is the governor of the world, [65] and in that His, may He be 
exalted, governance of the world takes place in one way, whereas His 
governance of the virtuous city takes place in another way; there is, how¬ 
ever, a relation between the two kinds of governing, and there is a relation 
between the parts of the world and the parts of the virtuous city or nation. 

And [it explains that] there must also be harmony, linkage, organiza¬ 
tion, and mutual support in actions among the parts of the virtuous 
nation, something similar to the harmony, linkage, organization, and 
mutual support in actions that exist in the parts of the world due to their 
natural traits must exist in the divisions of the virtuous nation due to their 
voluntary traits and dispositions. The Governor of the world places natu¬ 
ral traits in the parts of the world by means of which they are made har¬ 
monious, organized, linked together, and mutually supportive in actions 
in such a way that, despite their multiplicity and the multiplicity of their 
actions, they become like a single thing performing a single action for a 
single purpose. In the same manner, the governor of the nation must set 
down and prescribe voluntary traits and dispositions for the souls in the 
divisions of the nation and city that will bring them to that harmony, link¬ 
age of some to others, and mutual support in actions in such a way that, 
despite the multiplicity of their divisions, the diversity of their ranks, and 
the multiplicity of their actions, the nation and the nations become like a 
single thing performing a single action by which a single purpose is 
obtained. What corresponds to that becomes clear to anyone who contem¬ 
plates the organs of the human body. 

Along with the natural constitutions and instincts that He implanted 
in the world and its parts, the Governor of the world provided other 
things that make the existence of the world and its divisions persevere 
and continue in the way He constituted it for very long periods of time. 
The governor of the virtuous nation ought to do the very same thing: he 
ought not to limit himself to the virtuous traits and dispositions that he 
prescribes for their souls so that they will be made harmonious, linked 
together, and mutually supportive in actions unless he provides, in addi¬ 
tion, other things through which he seeks their perseverance and continu- 



Book of Religion 113 


ation in the virtues and good things he implanted in them from the outset. 

In general, he ought to follow God and pursue [66] the traces of the 
Governor of the world concerning His provision for the [different] sorts of 
beings and His governance of their affairs: the natural instincts, constitu¬ 
tions, and traits He set down and implanted in them so that the naturally 
good things are fully realized in each of the realms according to its level as 
well as in the totality of the beings. So, too, should he set down in the 
cities and nations the corresponding arts, and voluntary traits and dispo¬ 
sitions, so that the voluntary good things might be fully realized in every 
single city and nation to the extent that its rank and worth permit, in order 
that the associations of nations and cities might thereby arrive at happi¬ 
ness in this life and in the afterlife. For the sake of this, the first ruler of the 
virtuous city must already have thorough cognizance of theoretical phi¬ 
losophy; for he cannot understand anything pertaining to God's, may He 
be exalted, governance of the world so as to follow it except from that 
source. 

It is clear, in addition, that all of this is impossible unless there is a 
common religion in the cities that brings together their opinions, beliefs, 
and actions; that renders their divisions harmonious, linked together, and 
well ordered; and at that point they will support one another in their 
actions and assist one another to reach the purpose that is sought after, 
namely, ultimate happiness. 




The Harmonization of the Two 
Opinions of the Two Sages: 
Plato the Divine 
and Aristotle 




The translation 


This translation is based on the text prepared and edited by Fauzi M. 
Najjar. 1 Najjar's edition is a marked improvement over the first edition 
of the work published over a century ago that has served as the basis 
for all subsequent editions. 2 Dieterici relied on his own edition when he 
translated the work into German, as did Father Manuel Alonso Alonso 
for his Spanish and Elie Abdel-Massih for his French translation. 
Dominique Mallet used an unpublished version of Najjar's edition for 
his first French translation, and, except for a few modifications and 
additions, the one accompanying the publication of Najjar's text repro¬ 
duces that earlier translation. 3 What distinguishes Najjar's edition is 


1. See Abu Nasr al-Farabl, L'Harmonie entre les opinions de Platon et d'Aristote, ed. and 
trans. Fauzi Mitri Najjar and Dominique Mallet (Damascus: Institut Frangais de Damas, 
1999 >- 

2. See Friedrich Dieterici, Kitdb al-]am' bayn Ra’yay al-Hakimayn, Aflatun al-Ilahi urn 
Aristiitalis, in AlfarabVs philosophische Abhandlungen aus Londoner, Leidener, und Berliner 
Handschriften herausgegeben (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1890) and Albert N. Nader, Kitdb al-fam' bayn 
Ra’yay al-Hakimayn (Beirut: ImprimerieCatholique, i960). Nader republished the same text 
in 1968; several commercial versions of Dieterici's edition have appeared in Cairo from 
1907 on. 

3. See Friedrich Dieterici, "Die Harmonie zwischen Plato und Aristoteles," in 
Alfdrabi's philosophische Abhandlungen aus dem Arabischen iibersetzt (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1892); 
Fr. Manuel Alonso Alonso, "Concordia entre el divino Platon v el sabio Aristoteles," Pen- 
samiento 25 (1969); Elie Abel-Massih, "Livre de concordance entre les opinions des deux 
sages: le divin Platon et Aristote," MELTO, Recherches orientates 2 (1969), Universite Saint- 


117 



118 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


that his draws not only on the two manuscripts on which the first edi¬ 
tion was based, but on nine others as well. 4 Of special significance is his 
reliance on the very accurate manuscript no. 1970 from the Central 
Library in Diyarbekir, Turkey. In addition to being the most accurate of 
all the manuscripts, it is also the oldest and the most complete. More¬ 
over, Najjar has complemented the readings of the Diyarbekir manu¬ 
script by recourse to another two Turkish manuscripts, plus two others 
from the Princeton University Library collection, as well as four manu¬ 
scripts from the Central Library of Teheran University. 5 The text now at 
our disposition seems, therefore, most reliable. 

Because of the importance of the Diyarbekir manuscript for the 
establishment of the text, the numbers of its pages are indicated in 
square brackets in this translation. The division of the text into para¬ 
graphs and sentences reflects our understanding of the argument, as do 
the titles assigned the different parts of the text. These parts are signaled 
in the Diyarbekir manuscript, however, by letters in thick pen strokes. 
The translation presented here was begun by Fauzi M. Najjar and then 
completed and revised by Charles E. Butterworth, who also added the 
notes. 6 


Esprit, Kaslik, Lebanon; and Dominique Mallet, "L'harmonie entre les opinions des deux 
sages, le divin Platon et Aristote," in Deux traites philosophiques (Damascus: lnstitut 
Frangais de Damas, 1989). 

4. The first edition relied on British Museum, no. 7518; and Berlin, Petermann II, no. 

578. 

5. Najjar has used the two manuscripts already noted, plus Diyarbekir Central 
Library, no. 1970; Princeton University Library, Garrett, no. 794; Princeton University 
Library, Yahuda, no. 605; Istanbul Kopriilu Library, Fazil Ahmet Pasha, no. 347; Istanbul 
Topkapi Saray Library, Emanet Hazinesi, no. 1730; University of Teheran, Central Library, 
Mishkat, no. 253; University of Teheran, Central Library, Mishkat, no. 240; University of 
Teheran, Central Library, Danishkadah, No. 242; and University of Teheran, Central 
Library, Danishkadah Adabiyyat, no. 5179. For details concerning all of the manuscripts, 
see Najjar, "Introduction au texte arabe," in Najjar and Mallet, L'Hnrmonie entre les opinions 
de Platon et d'Aristote, pp. 45-51 

6. In this respect, Fauzi Najjar deserves equal billing, not to mention my deepest grat¬ 
itude, as collaborator or co-author of this translation. Special thanks are also due to Paul 
Walker for his helpful suggestions with respect to difficulties in the text, and to Dominique 
Mallet, whose notes to his French translation have been most instructive. Miriam Galston's 
unpublished translation of this work, prepared for Harvard University students of Arabic 
249 almost three decades ago, escaped my attention until I chanced upon it while correct¬ 
ing the copy-edited version of the present translation. Consequently, I could make no use 
of her work. 



The Harmonization 119 


The argument of the work 

From everything that we have read by Alfarabi thus far—that is, from the 
Selected Aphorisms through the Enumeration of the Sciences, Chapter 5, and 
the Book of Religion —with respect to politics, generally, but also with 
respect to the relationship he discerns between the philosophy of the 
ancients and religion as set forth in the new revelation brought by the 
Prophet Muhammad, one might object that he relies too much on a pre¬ 
sumption of harmony and agreement between Plato and Aristotle on 
these matters. Indeed, in all of these works, he presents Plato and Aristo¬ 
tle as though they set forth one and the same teaching. We know, how¬ 
ever, that the two differed about many minor and not-so-minor questions. 
This issue is addressed in the treatise before us, the highly enigmatic Har¬ 
monization. Here, Alfarabi, desirous of putting an end to the disputes and 
discord among his contemporaries about the disagreement they claim to 
discern between "the two eminent and distinguished sages, Plato and 
Aristotle," sets out to show that their opinions are in agreement, to 
"remove doubt and suspicion from the hearts of those who look into their 
books," and to "explain the places of uncertainty and the sources of doubt 
in their treatises." 

These goals, set forth in the opening words of the treatise, are surely 
most appealing. But do they not too readily discount or ignore simple 
facts manifest to any student of Plato and Aristotle? Almost as though it 
were an objection he had anticipated, Alfarabi's final observation at the 
beginning of the treatise affirms that such agreement or harmonization 
is "among the most important [things] to be intent upon explaining 
and among the most beneficial to wish to expound upon and to eluci¬ 
date." Still, what is important and beneficial is not always the same as 
what is true. And one sign of the possibility that there are differences 
between Plato and Aristotle not to be ignored is the way Alfarabi distin¬ 
guishes the one from the other in the very title of his work on harmoniza¬ 
tion, that is, by calling Plato "divine." 

Nor does Alfarabi seek to argue here that the differences between the 
two can all be explained away. He focuses, instead, on showing that they 
do not disagree about fundamentals. That is in keeping with the way he 
closes the Attainment of Happiness, admonishing the reader: "So let it be 
clear to you that their [that is, Plato's and Aristotle's] purpose is the same 
in what they presented and that they intended to present one and the 
same philosophy." 



120 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 

► 

Even this overstates the case. In the treatise following the Attainment 
namely, the Philosophy of Plato , Alfarabi presents Plato's philosophical 
quest as beginning with the inquiry into human perfection and thus 
human happiness. It is a quest that leads him to investigate what kinds of 
knowledge make human beings happy and perfect and how such knowl¬ 
edge might be obtained. At first, the quest takes him through the practical 
arts and the knowledge that is generally accepted among humans. Finding 
these inadequate, he also investigates the qualities of soul praised by 
human beings and eventually hits upon the importance of love and friend¬ 
ship. These somehow lead him to philosophy and statesmanship, to the 
quest for what is truly good, and then to the discovery of the importance of 
conversation for instruction. At that point, he returns from this high point 
to the city and to the recognition that true philosophy and statesmanship 
are not valued there. Indeed, Alfarabi's Plato constantly moves between 
investigations that take him away from the city and the concerns of the city 
then bring him back to the city and its needs. He finds repeatedly that what 
is true, just, and good is not appreciated in the city. But only after the 
investigation that leads him to recognize what a truly just city might be, 
namely, "a city that will not lack anything that leads its citizens to happi¬ 
ness" ( Philosophy of Plato, section 31)—an investigation that "is to be found 
in his book the Republic," says Alfarabi (section 32)—does Plato investigate 
"the divine and natural beings as they are perceived by the intellect and 
known by means of that science" (section 33). In other words, Alfarabi's 
Plato moves from the city, to the world of nature and to the principles on 
which it rests, then back to the city—not, like Plato's Socrates, for example, 
from reflection on nature to one on political and human things. 

Alfarabi's Aristotle does not proceed in the same manner. It is not 
clear, moreover, that his philosophy is the same as that of Alfarabi's Plato. 
Whereas the philosophy of his Plato starts from, and constantly returns to, 
the human things, that of his Aristotle starts from the principles on which 
human things are based and moves from them to the principles governing 
the universe. Though he returns from time to time to speak about human 
affairs, Alfarabi's Aristotle is much more rooted in natural investigations 
and in what natural things stand on—in the metaphysical. The difference 
between the two is stated clearly at the outset of the Philosophy of Aristotle: 


Aristotle sees the perfection of man as Plato sees it and more. However, 
because man's perfection is not self-evident or easy to explain by a demon- 



The Harmonization 


121 


stration leading to certainty, he saw fit to start from a position anterior to 
that from which Plato had started. 

In other words, and this is still in keeping with the main thrust of the 
Harmonization, though there is a difference between the two, it is a mere 
procedural difference, one rooted in Aristotle's desire to posit certain 
premises or to lay bare certain suppositions that Plato had neglected. At 
the end of the exposition, however, Alfarabi lets slip—if it is accurate to 
say that Alfarabi ever lets anything slip—the following: 

It has become evident that the knowledge that he [Aristotle] investigated at 
the outset just because he loved to do so, and inspected for the sake of 
explaining the truth about the above-mentioned pursuits, has turned out to 
be necessary for acquiring the intellect for the sake of which man is made. 

Not gentle buttressing of Plato, then, nor even an attempt to provide the 
necessary antecedents for Plato's investigation—which is supposed to be 
one and the same as his—but a different tack entirely, one pursued out of 
simple love of learning, prompts Aristotle's difference. 

Though this is a more accurate image of the way the philosophical 
pursuits of Plato and Aristotle appear to us, there is still a sense in which 
those pursuits appear to be one and the same. One way to see this is to 
consider what Alfarabi has to say about Plato and Aristotle, though men¬ 
tioning them by name only in passing, in the Selected Aphorisms, a work 
that overlaps in its themes as well as in its literal phrases with the Attain¬ 
ment. Alfarabi calls upon Plato and Aristotle in the Aphorisms to identify 
the political order that will achieve human happiness. The individual 
who succeeds in understanding how a political community can be well- 
ordered—whether this person is a statesman or a king—will do for the cit¬ 
izens what the physician does for individual sick persons and will 
accomplish for the citizens who follow his rules what the prophet accom¬ 
plishes for those who follow his. To attain such an understanding, one 
must first be fully acquainted with the soul as well as with political life. 
This is why such a patently political treatise contains two long discussions 
of the soul (Aphs. 6-21 and 33-56) as well as an investigation of the sound 
and erroneous opinions with respect to the principles of being and to hap¬ 
piness (Aphs. 68-87). 

Whereas both discussions of the soul are very similar to the Nico- 



122 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


machean Ethics , the investigation centered on opinions is couched in terms 
such as to call Plato's Socrates to mind. Moreover, the second discussion 
of the soul is followed by an inquiry into the virtuous city (Aphs. 57-67) 
that vividly calls to mind discussions raised in Plato's Republic. Just as the 
first moral digression is followed by a series of aphorisms that bring polit¬ 
ical questions into sharper focus, so is the second moral digression fol¬ 
lowed by a set of politically-oriented aphorisms. It seems, then, that 
Aristotle's moral concerns permit one to grasp Plato's political concerns 
more fully. Differently stated, the treatise's moral teaching, grounded in 
Aristotelian principles, provides the driving force for its political teach¬ 
ing—one grounded in Platonic principles. In this sense, Aristotle seems to 
provide the groundwork for Plato's loftier queries. Though subsequent 
to Plato in time, he is necessary for the fuller understanding of Plato's 
thought. 

Another way to learn about the relationship between these two all- 
important philosophic predecessors—perhaps even to come to view 
them as nearly identical in their intentions, if not in their procedures—is 
to consider what Alfarabi has to say about them in the Harmonization. In 
turning to it, however, one cannot help but notice immediately how the 
style of this work distinguishes it from the preceding treatises. Here the 
language is much more florid, much richer and more colorful, than it is in 
these other writings. Moreover, in a number of instances, the arguments 
are explicitly based on an appeal to common opinion; and for support, 
they sometimes refer to what everyone says (see, for example, section 4). 
Alfarabi does, to be sure, gently correct common opinion, but he does so 
far less often here than in his other works. Finally, and perhaps most 
striking, there is a reliance here on works not usually cited. We learn, for 
instance, of an exchange of letters between Plato and Aristotle (section 
15), as well as of a little-known letter purportedly written by Aristotle to 
Alexander (section 13). And at the end of the treatise, Alfarabi finds it 
necessary to rely not only on the most unusual work entitled the Theology 
of Aristotle, which he must surely have known to be spurious, but also 
upon an equally suspect letter that Aristotle is supposed to have written 
to the mother of Alexander. It appears that the goal of bringing Aristotle 
and Plato into harmony—really, of bringing Aristotle's teaching into 
closer alignment with Plato's—is of such importance that all means are 
warranted. 

The alleged differences between Plato and Aristotle are accounted for 
in terms of the different goals each had or the different circumstances that 



The Harmonization 123 


surrounded their writing, more than they are shown to be without foun¬ 
dation. Differently stated, Alfarabi harmonizes the two opinions of these 
two sages by showing why people mistake other kinds of differences 
between the two for intellectual differences. Thus he never denies that 
they acted in different ways or lived in dissimilar manners. He insists, 
rather, that despite such differences or divergences—which are to be 
attributed at one time to a difference in the natural powers or faculties of 
each (section n) and at another to a difference in the goal each set for 
himself (sections 19-20 with section 17)—their opinions do not diverge. 
The point, however, is that Alfarabi insists upon or asserts the existence of 
such agreement; he does not prove it. 

The differences others discern in the writing of Plato as compared to 
that of Aristotle are not denied; indeed, Alfarabi would have been fool¬ 
hardy to attempt to do so. He argues, instead, that they are similar in that 
the writing of each is obscure and difficult to follow, as well as that the 
different style pursued by the one and the other was dictated by different 
circumstances (section 16). He follows the same procedure with respect to 
the question of the approach each took to definitions and to the way each 
used syllogisms. According to Alfarabi, the minor differences that can 
ultimately be identified between Plato and Aristotle with respect to these 
issues are due more to the differences in their pursuits than to a difference 
in method (section 23). Most of the other differences can be attributed to 
errors made by those who attempted to comment on their works (section 
25). Here, as throughout the treatise, Alfarabi demonstrates an enviable 
familiarity with the writings of the two sages that shows how deep an 
understanding he had of the teaching of each. 

An observant reader will note, nonetheless, that the argument or expo¬ 
sition as a whole is tendentious. Indeed, Alfarabi scolds and obscures here 
more than he elucidates and enlightens. Stated differently, his attempt to 
prove fundamental agreement between Plato and Aristotle is at times as 
stilted as the language he uses in the process. Why, then, does he pursue 
such a task? Why is it important and beneficial to have a firm opinion 
about the basic agreement between these two philosophers? Why can dif¬ 
ferences between them not be acknowledged as a natural consequence of 
two exceptionally thoughtful human beings attempting to achieve an 
understanding of difficult questions? 

The only answer that offers itself, one that serves as a guide of sorts to 
deeper study of the treatise, is found in the opening sections: to admit dis¬ 
agreement between Plato and Aristotle is to call the whole enterprise of 



124 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


philosophy into question. Because philosophy offers the sole viable cor¬ 
rection to the exaggerations and sophistical tricks of those who oppose its 
explanations, it along with its two founders must be defended. Still, as 
noted above, there is another aspect of the defense that must also be 
reflected upon due to the way it nuances this response: throughout the 
Harmonization, Alfarabi is more intent on showing that Aristotle agrees 
with Plato—with bringing Aristotle's teaching into harmony with 
Plato's—than on proving that Plato's teaching agrees with Aristotle's. 
Though one might explain such a procedure on historical grounds, noting 
that Aristotle comes later and must thus be shown to have followed his 
predecessor, that is not sufficient. The point remains that of the two, Plato 
alone is identified as "divine." His teaching is closer to what is readily 
accepted in the community, and a defense of philosophy for the commu¬ 
nity must therefore be couched in terms that show all of philosophy to fol¬ 
low upon and develop his procedures and explanations. 



The Harmonization of the 
Two Opinions of the Two Sages: 
Plato the Divine and Aristole 


[introduction: what the people of our time 
claim] 

1. [lb] I see most of the people of our time delving into and disputing 
over whether the world is generated or eternal. They claim that there is 
disagreement between the two eminent and distinguished sages, Plato 
and Aristotle, concerning: the proof [of the existence] of the First Inno¬ 
vator; the causes 1 existing due to Him; the issue of the soul and the intel¬ 
lect; recompense for good and evil actions; and many political, moral, 
and logical issues. So I want to embark in this treatise of mine upon a har¬ 
monization of the two opinions of both of them and an explanation of 
what the tenor of their arguments signifies in order to make the agree¬ 
ment between the beliefs of both apparent, to remove doubt and suspi¬ 
cion from the hearts of those who look into their books, and to explain the 
places of uncertainty 2 and the sources of doubt in their treatises. For that 
is among the most important [things] to be intent upon explaining and 
among the most beneficial to wish to expound upon and to elucidate. 

2. Now the definition of philosophy and what it consists in are that it is 
knowledge of existing things insofar as they are existent. 3 These two sages 


1. The term is asbdb (sing., sabab) and will usually be translated in what follows as 
"reasons" or "reason"; see section 5. 

2. Literally, "the topics of presumptions" (tnawadi' al-zunun). 

3. For Plato, see Republic, 5.4730-6.503^ esp. 5.4756-0, 480a, and 6.485b; also 7.521c, 


125 



126 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


are the fountainheads of philosophy, the originators of its beginnings and 
fundamentals, the fulfillers of its ends and branches. We depend upon them 
for what is minor and what is major with respect to it; we turn to them for 
what is slight and what is important with respect to it. Whatever they pro¬ 
duce in any of its disciplines is the dependable fundamental, free from 
blemish and turbidity. Tongues have proclaimed this, and intellects have 
testified to it—if not all, then most of those possessing pure hearts and lucid 
minds. 

Now a belief is true and accurate when it corresponds to the way the 
thing expressed is. Thus the difference between the two statements of 
these two sages [2a] with respect to many of the disciplines 4 of philosophy 
is inevitably due to one of three things: either this definition disclosing 
what philosophy consists in is not correct, or the opinion and belief of all 
or most people concerning the philosophizing of these two Ancients is 
fatuous and spurious, or there is some deficiency in the cognition of those 
who presume that there is a difference between the arguments of these 
two regarding these fundamentals. 

3. The definition is correct and corresponds to the meaning of the art of 
philosophy. This becomes evident from [considering] the particulars of 
this art by means of induction. That is, the subject matters of the sciences 
can only be divine, natural, political, mathematical, or logical. And the art 
of philosophy is the one that infers and extrapolates all of these so that 
there is nothing among the existing things of this world that philosophy 
does not have access to, a purpose in, and knowledge of, to the extent 
humanly possible. 

The method of division 5 expounds and elucidates what we have men¬ 
tioned, and it is the one the sage Plato prefers. Indeed, he who uses divi- 


525b, 527b, and 10.61 le. For Aristotle, see Metaphysics, 4.1.1003820-3.ioo5b34 and 
i i.2.io6ob3i-32. Also, the term translated as "knowledge" here is ’ilm, just as ma’rifa will 
be translated as "cognition"; see Selected Aphorisms, note 5. Note that instead of "what it 
[that is, philosophy] consists in" in this sentence and "what philosophy consists in" in the 
next paragraph, a more literal translation would be "its whatness" or even "its quiddity" 
in the first case and "the whatness of philosophy" or even "the quiddity of philosophy" in 
the second; the Arabic term is mahiyyatuha. 

4. Literally, "kinds" (anwa r ). 

5. In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates invariably seeks to understand the meaning of 
a particular term by asking his interlocutor about its parts. See, for example, his investiga¬ 
tion of courage in the Laches, i85b-e and i8gd-i92b; as well as his investigation of piety in 
the Euthyphro, 5C-d. In the Sophist, the Eleatic Stranger almost makes a mockery of this pro¬ 
cedure; see 258b--262a. 



The Harmonization 127 


Sion wishes to let none of the existing things elude him. Had Plato not 
pursued this [method], the sage Aristotle would have had to originate and 
pursue it. However, when he found that the sage Plato had mastered, 
become skillful in, explained, and elucidated it, Aristotle toiled mightily 
and struggled greatly to originate the method of the syllogism and 
embarked upon explaining and refining it so as to use it in each and every 
part necessitated by division that he might be a successor who completes 
and an assistant of good counsel. 

To anyone trained in the science of literature—that is, logic—who 
then embarks upon the science of natural and of divine things [2b] and 
studies the books of these two sages, the accuracy of what we say will 
become evident. He will find that both have been intent upon putting in 
writing the sciences about the existing things of the world and have 
struggled to elucidate their conditions as they really are without being 
intent upon invention, innovation, exaggeration, embellishment, or fas¬ 
tidiousness, but rather upon giving each its due and share as much as is at 
all possible. This being the case, the definition of philosophy stated, 
namely, that it is knowledge of existing things insofar as they are existent, 
is a correct definition that discloses the essence of being and indicates 
what it is. 

4. That the opinion and belief of all or most about these two sages 
being highly regarded [individuals] and prominent leaders in this art are 
fatuous and spurious is far from what intellect accepts and defers to. 
Indeed, existence testifies to the contrary. We know for certain that there 
is no proof more powerful, more persuasive, or more masterful than the 
testimonies of various cognitions to the same thing and the unanimous 
agreement of many intellects about it. For intellect, according to every¬ 
one, is proof. Precisely because someone endowed with intellect some¬ 
times imagines one thing after another different from the way it really 
is, owing to the similarities of the signs signifying its condition, it is nec¬ 
essary to have the agreement of many diverse intellects. Once they agree, 
there is no proof more powerful and no certainty more^riasterful than 
that. 

Conversely, do not let yourself be misled by the existence of many 
creatures having spurious opinions. For when [members of] a community 
slavishly adhere to a single opinion and defer to a leader to precede them 
and direct them in what they agree upon, they are as a single intellect. 
And, as we have already mentioned, a single intellect sometimes errs 



128 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


about one thing, especially if it does not frequently ponder [3a] the opin¬ 
ion it believes, often probe into it, or look into it with a scrutinizing and 
critical eye. To accept something on mere presumption and, likewise, to 
fail to investigate it may cover over, blind, and lead astray. 

But when various intellects come to be in agreement—after reflecting 
on, pondering, investigating, examining, criticizing, disputing, and bring¬ 
ing up opposing passages—there will then be nothing more correct than 
what they believe in, testify to, and agree upon. And we find the various 
tongues unrestrained about the eminence of these two sages in philoso¬ 
phy. They are cited as examples, and high consideration is bestowed on 
them. They are described as the ultimate in profound wisdom, subtle 
knowledge, remarkable inferences, and fathoming the delicate meanings 
that lead to purity and truth in everything. 

5. This being the case, what remains is that there is deficiency in the cog¬ 
nition of those who presume that the two of them differ about fundamen¬ 
tals. You ought to know that there is no presumption, erroneous or 
apposite, without there being a reason leading to and provoking it. And 
we shall explain in this place some of the reasons leading to the presump¬ 
tion that there is a difference about fundamentals between the two sages. 
Then we will follow that by a harmonization of the two opinions of both 
of them. 

6. We say then: A judgment about the whole based on [considering] 
some particulars by means of an induction is so convincing to [human] 
nature that it is not disavowed, nor is it possible to abstain from it or 
free oneself from it with respect to (a) sciences, opinions, and beliefs; 
(b) the reasons for the nomoi and the laws; 6 or, (c) likewise, the civic 
ways of life and associations. With respect to natural things, [3b] this is 
like our judging that all stones sink in water and that all plants burn in 
fire, although some [plants] may not burn and although some stones 
may float; or that the mass of the universe is finite, although it may be 
infinite. With respect to legal matters, it is like [our judging] that who¬ 
ever is observed doing good in most instances is a just and accurate 
witness in many such instances. With respect to [civic] associations, it is 

6 . The terms are nawamTs (sing., namiis ) and shara'i’ (sing., sharp a). While the first sig¬ 
nifies conventional laws, the second evokes the notion of divine law, especially the 
revealed law of Islam. Thus the term translated as "legal matters" in the sentence after the 
next is shar'iyyat. 



The Harmonization 


129 


like the trust and confidence we find in our souls for someone whom 
we have often seen behave uprightly, without having observed him in 
all instances. 

7. Now the matter in question, as we have described it, is such that it 
seizes and dominates one's nature. Moreover, an apparent difference has 
been found between Plato and Aristotle with respect to ways of life, actions, 
and many statements. How, then, to refrain from conjecturing and judging 
that there is a universal difference between them, given the prevailing con¬ 
jecture that both action and speech follow belief—particularly when there 
has been no challenge to, or hesitation about, it with the passing of time? 


[chapter one: about their divergent actions and 

DIFFERENT WAYS OF LIFE] 

8. Among their divergent actions and different ways of life is Plato's 
withdrawal from most worldly concerns, 7 rejection of them, warning 
against them in many of his statements, and predilection for shunning 
them. In contrast, Aristotle's involvement with what Plato had fled was 
such that he possessed much property, married, procreated, served 
Alexander [the Great] as a vizier, and embraced worldly concerns—none 
of which is concealed from anyone who carefully studies the books telling 
about the Ancients. On the surface, this divergence compels the presump¬ 
tion and the assurance that there is a difference between their two beliefs 
about [4a] the issue of the two abodes. 8 

9. The matter is not like that in truth. For it is Plato who has put in writ¬ 
ing [an account of] political regimes and how to improve them, explained 
the just ways of life and human civic association, expounded their virtues, 
and made apparent the corruption resulting from the actions of those who 
flee civic association and reject mutual cooperation. His treatises dealing 
with what we have mentioned are well known and have been studied by 
various nations from his time to this age of ours. However, he was of the 
opinion that making the soul upright is the most worthwhile thing for a 

7. Literally, "worldly reasons" ( al-nsbab al-dunyawiyya). The same expression occurs 
in the next sentence. 

8. That is, this life and the hereafter. 



130 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


human being to begin with and that only after having mastered making it 
just and upright is one to go on to making others upright. But when he did 
not find the power in himself to accomplish that, he dedicated his days to 
his most important obligations, resolving that once he accomplished the 
most important and worthwhile he would then turn his attention to the 
closer and nearer, just as he recommended in his treatises on politics and 
ethics. 9 

10. Aristotle proceeded in a manner similar to Plato in his political 
statements and epistles. But when he turned to the issue of his own soul, 
he sensed that he possessed the power, liberality, persistence, broad 
moral character, and perfection to enable him to make it upright and 
still have leisure to cooperate [with others] and enjoy many political 
relations. 10 

11. Accordingly, he who reflects upon these conditions will know that 
there is no difference between the two opinions and the two beliefs. The 
reason for the divergence that occurs is nothing other than a deficiency in 
the natural powers of the one and an excess in those of the other—as 


9. For a fuller account of how Alfarabi understands Plato's life and philosophical 
pursuits, see Philosophy of Plato in Alfarabi, The Political Writings: Philosophy of Plato ami Aris¬ 
totle, trans. Muhsin Mahdi (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming), especially sec¬ 
tions 21-38; for the Arabic text, see Alfarabius, tie Ptatonis Pliilosophia (Falsafat Aflatiin), ed. 
Franz Rosenthal and Richard Walzer (London: Warburg Institute, 1943). 

Plato was born in Athens in 427 b.c.e. Having witnessed the end of the Peloponnesian 
war and the fall of the Athenian democracy in 404, then its restoration, along with the 
subsequent trial and execution of Socrates in 399, he left Athens for a period of a dozen 
years. After spending some time in Sicily with Dion in 387, he returned to Athens and 
founded the Academy. There he remained until his death in 347, except for two brief 
excursions to Sicily in 367 and 362—the first time at the behest of Dion and the second 
time at the urging of his nephew, Dionysius the younger. Both trips had as their goal the 
instruction of Dionysius the younger, Plato's hope being that he might learn to rule in 
accordance with philosophy. See David Grene, Man in His Pritic: A Study in the Political 
Philosophy of Thucydides and Plato (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), pp. 97-101 
and 164-76; also Plato, Seventh Letter, 324a-b, 3266-327b, 3286-3306, 3370-3413, and 
345 c_ 35 2a - 

10. Literally, "political reasons" (al-asbhb al-madaniyya). For another account of how 
Alfarabi understands Aristotle's relation to Plato, see Philosophy of Aristotle in Alfarabi, The 
Political Writings: Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, especially sections 1-14. 

Aristotle was born inStagira, in northern Greece, in 384 b.c.e. When he was seventeen, 
he went to Athens, where he pursued studies at Plato's Academy for the next twenty 
years. Then, for reasons that are not fully known, he left Athens in 347 and went to Assos 
in Asia Minor. While there, he became friendly with the ruler, Hermias of Atarneus, and 



The Harmonization 


131 


inevitably happens between any two human beings. For most people may 
know what is preferable, more correct, and more worthwhile without per¬ 
haps having the aptitude for it or being capable of [achieving] it; or they 
may have an aptitude for some [worthy things] [4b] and lack the strength 
for others. 


[chapter two: on the divergence in their 

PROCEDURES IN PUTTING THE SCIENCES IN WRITING] 

12. Another instance is the divergence in their procedures in putting the 
sciences in writing and composing books and treatises. In his earlier days, 
Plato used to refrain from putting any of the sciences in writing and deposit** 
ing them in the interior of books instead of in unsullied breasts and congen¬ 
ial intellects. When he became fearful of becoming negligent and forgetful as 
well as of losing what he had inferred, discovered by thinking, and achieved 
in areas where his knowledge and wisdom had been established and devel¬ 
oped, he resorted to allegories and riddles. He intended thereby to put in 
writing his knowledge and wisdom according to an approach that would let 
them be known only to the deserving, to those worthy of comprehending 
them because of research, investigation, examination, struggle, study, and 
genuine inclination. 11 In contrast, Aristotle's procedure is to clarify, eluci¬ 
date, put in writing, order, communicate, uncover, and explain, making full 
use of any of these he finds an approach to. 

These two approaches are apparently divergent. But the modes of 
abstruseness, obscurity, and complexity in Aristotle's procedure, despite 
his apparent intention to explain and elucidate, will not be concealed from 
anyone who carefully investigates his scientific teachings, 12 studies his 
books, and perseveres with them. 


eventually married Hermias's niece, Pythias. In 343, he accepted Philip's invitation to 
Macedonia either to become the tutor of his son Alexander or to set up a school for the sons 
of the aristocracy. About eight years later, he returned to Athens and founded the Lyceum. 
Then, following Alexander's death in 323, Aristotle fled Athens for Chalcis in Euboea to 
escape the anti-Macedonian disturbances and died there in 322. For more details, see Aris¬ 
totle, The Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 2-6 
and Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, ed. Richard Goulet et al. (Paris: CNRS Editions, 
1994), article 414, "Aristote de Stagire," vol. 1, pp. 413-590. 

11. See section 61, and Alfarabi, Philosophy of Plato, section 28. See also Plato, Seventh 
Letter, 34ib-e; and Phaedrus, 274C-275b and 275d-e. 

12. Literally, "sciences" tfuliim). 



132 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


13. One finds in his statements, for example, that he omits the necessary 
premise from many of the syllogisms he adduces in physics, theology, 
and ethics; the locations of these [omissions] have been indicated by the 
commentators. Moreover, he omits many conclusions. Again, he omits 
one of a pair [of terms], limiting himself to a single one, as [5a] in his "Let¬ 
ter to Alexander about the Constitutions of Particular Cities" 13 when he 
says: "He who chooses justice in mutual association deserves to be distin¬ 
guished by the governor of the city in punishment." Complete, this state¬ 
ment is like this: "He who prefers to choose justice over injustice deserves 
to be distinguished by the governor of the city in punishment and 
reward." That is, he who prefers justice deserves to be rewarded just as he 
who prefers injustice deserves to be punished. Another instance is his 
mentioning two premises of a certain syllogism and following them with 
the conclusion of another syllogism. Another is his mentioning certain 
premises and following them with the conclusion of the concomitants of 
those premises, as he has done in the Prior Analytics where he mentions 
that the parts of a substance are substances. 14 

14. Another instance is his speaking at length when enumerating the 
particulars of something obvious to display his unsparing and strenuous 
effort at thoroughness, then passing over the obscure without speaking 
about it at length nor defining it sufficiently. 

15. Another instance is the organization, order, and arrangement of his 
scientific books such that one presumes it to be a natural characteristic of 
his that he cannot alter. But if his letters are reflected on, the speech in 


13. See Jozef Bielawski and Marian Plezia, Lettre d'Aristote a Alexandre sur la politique 
envers les cites (Archiwum Filologiczne, XXV; Warsaw: Polskiej Akademii Nauk, i97o).The 
work contains the Arabic text of the letter (pp. 27-54) with a French translation (pp. 57-73) 
and an extensive commentary (pp. 75-106). Bielawski and Plezia point to the numerous 
other citations of the letter in Greek, Latin, and Arabic sources, as well as to parallels 
between it and other writings by Aristotle. Examining the letter's historical, doctrinal, and 
literary conformity to the putative setting and to Aristotle's other works, they conclude 
that the Arabic text is "an extract of an authentic missive sent by Aristotle to Alexander in 
330" and that "it would be a master-piece of literary and psychological art—if it were not 
the authentic voice of Aristotle" (see pp. 9, 15-17, and esp. 163- 66; also 149-50). Still, 
despite numerous juxtapositions of double terms or pairs in the letter, there is nothing in it 
similar to the phrase cited by Alfarabi. 

14. Literally, the reference is to the "Book of the Syllogism" ( Kitab al-Qiyas), which, 
unless otherwise noted, is the way Alfarabi refers to the Prior Analytics in the rest of this 
treatise. See Aristotle, Prior Analytics, 1.32.47324-27; and also Topics, 8.11.162315. 



The Harmonization 133 


them will be found to be arrayed and organized according to arrange¬ 
ments and orders differing from what is in those books. It is sufficient for 
us to mention his famous 15 letter to Plato in response to what Plato ha^ 
written in reproaching him for putting books in writing, ordering the sci¬ 
ences, and bringing this out in complete and exhaustive compositions. In 
this letter to Plato, he states explicitly: "Although I have put these sciences 
and their well-guarded and sparingly-revealed maxims in writing, I have 
nevertheless ordered them in such a manner that only those suited for 
them will get them, and I expressed them in an idiom that only those 
adept in them 16 will comprehend." 17 

16. Thus, it appears from what we have described that what initially 
leads [people] to conjecture that their pursuits diverge [5b] is in fact a mat¬ 
ter of two apparently different circumstances brought into harmony by a 
single intention. 


[chapter three: the issue of the substances] 

17. Another instance is the issue of the substances: that the ones most 
prior for Aristotle are not those most prior for Plato. Hence, most of 
those who look into their books judge that there is a difference with 
respect to the two opinions of both of them concerning this subject. 
What drew them to this judgment and presumption is their finding in 


15. Literally, "his cognized letter" ( risalatuh al-ma'riifa). 

16. Literally, "their sons" ( banuhd ). 

17. Something very much like this is to be found in Abu al-Wafa’ al-Mubashshir Ibn 
al-Fatik, Mukhtar al-Hikam wa Mahasin al-Kalim (Anthology of wise maxims and attractive 
words), 2d ed., ed. 'Abd al-Rahman Badawl (Beirut: al-Mu’assasa al-'Arabiyya li-al-Dirasat 
wa al-Nashr, 1980), 184:5-18: 

Plato rebuked him for the wisdom he had made apparent and the books he had 
compiled; and he answered, excusing himself: Those adept in wisdom and their heirs 
ought not to sully it; its enemies and those who abstain from it will not obtain it 
because of their ignorance of what is in it, and their loathing for it and aversion to it 
will make it difficult for them. I have well fortified this wisdom—in spite of my hav¬ 
ing divulged it—making it inaccessible so that no fools will climb to it, no ignora¬ 
muses obtain it, or scoundrels reach it. And I have given it an organization that will 
neither trouble the wise nor be of any use to deceitful unbelievers. 

See also F. Rosenthal, "Al-Mubashshir ibn Fatik," Oriens 13-14 (1960-61): 132-58, for a 
description of al-Mubashshir's text and its manuscripts intended as a complement to 
BadawTs edition; and A. J. Arberry, "Plato's Testament to Aristotle," Bulletin of the School of 
African Studies 34 (1971): 475-90. 



134 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


Plato's statements in many of his books, like the Timaeus 18 and the 
Young Statesman ,' 19 an indication that the most excellent, most prior, and 
most venerable substance is the one close to the intellect and the soul 
and far from sense-perception and natural existence. Then they found 
that in many of Aristotle's statements in his books—such as the book 
on the Categories 20 and his book on Conditional Syllogisms 21 —he states 
explicitly that the substances most worthy of being deemed excellent 
and prior are the primary substances, namely, individuals. So when 
they find the dissimilarity and the divergence we have mentioned in 
these statements, they do not doubt that a difference exists between the 
two beliefs. 


18. But this is not the case, because the procedure of sages and philoso¬ 
phers is to differentiate between statements and propositions in the various 
arts. Thus they speak about one thing in an art according to the requisites of 
that art, then speak about the very same thing in another art differently 
than they first spoke about it. This is neither unprecedented nor excessive, 22 
since philosophy hinges on arguing "insofar as" and "with respect to." As 
the saying goes, were "insofar as" and "with respect to" eliminated, sci¬ 
ences and philosophy would cease to exist. Do you not see that the same 
individual—Socrates, for example—falls under [6a] substance insofar as he 
is a human being; under quantity insofar as his whole is measured in terms 
of one of his parts; under quality insofar as he is white, virtuous, or the like; 


18. See Plato, Timaeus 5id-52a; the passage is part of Timaeus's general account of the 
cosmos and its coming into being (see 278-29 eff), but is emphatically endorsed by 
Timaeus as being consonant with his own opinion. 

19. There is much confusion about the second word in this title in the various manu¬ 
scripts, but it is most likely Kitdb al-Bulittal-Saghir, with Alfarabi probably having in mind 
Plato's Statesman; see 286a (the speaker is not Socrates but the Eleatic Stranger, who first 
appears in the dialogue dramatically preceding this one—namely, the Sophist). Although 
Alfarabi neither uses this title nor refers to the Statesman by name at all in his Philosophy of 
Plato, the discussion of the prince and the statesman in section 21 of that work has often 
been taken as a reference to this dialogue; see Mahdi, trans.. Philosophy of Plato, sections 
21-22, and Mahdi's note 1 to section 21 referring to pp. 21-22 of the Rosenthal and Walzer 
edition of the Arabic text. See also Majid Fakhry, "Al-Farabi and the Reconciliation of Plato 
and Aristotle," Journal of the History of Ideas 26 (1965): 474, note 27; and D. M. Dunlop, trans. 
AI-FarabT, Fusul al-Madant: Aphorisms of the Statesman, (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1961), pp. 17-18. 

20. See Aristotle, Categories, 5.2811-18,2bi5~20, and 331-4; Alfarabi refers to this book 
here by the Arabic transliteration of its Greek title, Qattghuriyas. 

21. Aristotle is not known to have written any book with the title Conditional Syllo¬ 
gisms —(Ff al-Qiynsdt al-Shartiyya) —but see Prior Analytics, 1.27.43340-43, for something 
similar to what Alfarabi says here. 



The Harmonization 135 


under relation insofar as he is a father; and under posture insofar as he is 
sitting? It is the same with all other similar [things]. 

19. When the sage Aristotle sets individual substances down as the sub¬ 
stances most worthy of priority and excellence, he does so only in the art 
of logic and the art of physics. 23 He takes into account there the conditions 
of the existing things tangential to what is sense-perceptible, from which 
everything conjectured is derived and by which the universal concept is 
constituted. And when the sage Plato sets the universals down as the sub¬ 
stances most worthy of priority and excellence, he does so only in meta¬ 
physics and in his theological statements. He takes into account there the 
simple, permanent existing things that neither change nor perish. 

20. Since there is a variance between the two purposes, a gap between 
the two intentions, and a difference in the aims of the two, it is correct that 
the two opinions of these two sages are in accord and that there is no dis¬ 
agreement between them. However, disagreement would have occurred 
had the two of them expressed, from the same perspective and in relation 
to the same intention, judgments about the substances that disagreed. 
Since this is not the case, it is correct that the two opinions of both of them 
regarding the priority and excellence of the substances are in harmony 
about the same issue. 


[chapter four: division and synthesis] 

21. Another instance, also, is what is presumed about them as concerns 
the issue of division and synthesis for adequate definitions. It is that Plato 
is of the opinion adequate definitions can be achieved only by the method 
of division, while Aristotle maintains [6b] they can be achieved only by 
the method of demonstration and synthesis. 

22. It ought to be known that this is similar to a flight of stairs that one 
climbs up and another comes down; the distance is the same, although 


22. Reading mustakthar, with the Diyarbekir manuscript, instead of mustankar ("repre¬ 
hensible"), with the other manuscripts. 

23. The text reads sina'at al-kiyan. The medieval Islamic philosophers used kiydn, which— 
like tab' and tab? a —means nature, as a way of referring to Aristotle's Physics’, see A.-M. Goi- 
chon, Lexique de la langue philosophique d’lbn Sina, (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1938), p. 357. In 
section 17, the term al-wujild al-kiyani occurred and was translated as "natural existence." 



136 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


there is a difference between the two pursuits. Now Aristotle was of the 
opinion that the closest and most masterful method for [arriving atl ade¬ 
quate definitions is to seek what characterizes the thing particularly and 
generally in its essence and substance. This holds also for the rest of what 
he mentions in the section of his Metaphysics where he discusses adequate 
definitions, as well as in the Posterior Analytics and in the treatise in the 
Topics about the topics of definition, which is too long for this statement of 
ours . 24 Most of his discussions are not without some division, although it 
may not be explicitly stated. For when he differentiates between the gen¬ 
eral and the particular or between the essential and the non-essential, he is 
pursuing the method of division in his nature, his mind, and his thought, 
while making only some of its terms explicit. For this reason, he does not 
reject the method of division right away, but counts it as an auxiliary in 
extracting the parts of the definitions. A sign of this is his statement in the 
Prior Analytics toward the end of the first treatise: "It is easy to recognize 
that division into genera is a small part of this undertaking," and the rest 
of what follows that . 25 

Nor does he repeat the meanings that Plato is of an opinion to use 
when he is intent upon the most general thing he can find that contains 
what he intends to define. Thus he divides it into two essential differen¬ 
tiae, then divides each of its divisions in the same manner and looks into 
which of the two domains the thing he intends to define occurs. He then 
continues doing that until [ 7 a] he obtains something general approximat¬ 
ing what he intends to define and a differentia that constitutes its essence 
and marks it off from what is common to it. He has not thereby escaped a 
sort of synthesis insofar as he synthesizes the differentia with the genus, 
even though he was not intent upon this at the outset. 


24. Here and in what follows, when referring to sections of Aristotle's Metaphysics, 
Alfarabi says something like "the letter among the letters of the Metaphysics," (al-harf. .. 
min huruffi Ma Ba’d al-Tabt'a). This unusual formulation points to the traditional designa¬ 
tion of the books of the Metaphysics in Greek by letters of the alphabet, rather than by 
numbers; see Averroes: TafsTr Ma Ba'd At-Tabt'at, ed. Maurice Bouyges (Beirut: Imprimerie 
Catholique, 1952), pp. cxxiv-cxxv. Similarly, Alfarabi here calls the Posterior Analytics the 
"Book on Demonstration" ( Kitab al-Burhan) and the Topics the "Book on Dialectic" ( Kitab 
al-]adal). For the references, see Aristotle, Metaphysics, 7.5.1030^4-1031314 and 
7.i2.i037b8-i038a35; also 8.6.i045a8-i045b29; Posterior Analytics, 2.13.96320^^40; and 
Topics, 1.5.10^37-102317,1.8.103^2-19, and 1.15.107336-107^3. 

25. See Prior Analytics, 1.31.46331. Note that in "the rest of what follows that," that is, 
in the rest of the sentence, Aristotle says:"for division is like a weak syllogism, since it begs 
the point it is to prove and always arrives at a conclusion more general than needed." 



The Harmonization 137 


23. Since the latter [sc., Aristotle] inevitably uses what the former [sc., 
Plato] does—although his apparent pursuit is different from the appar¬ 
ent pursuit of the former—and since the former inevitably uses what the 
latter does—although his apparent pursuit is different from the apparent 
pursuit of the latter—the meanings are therefore identical. Moreover, it 
is all the same whether you seek a thing's genus and differentia or seek 
the thing in its genus and differentia. It is thus apparent that there is no 
fundamental difference between the two opinions, although there is a 
difference in the two pursuits. Now we do not claim that there is no gap 
in any mode or any respect whatever between the two methods, because 
in that case we would have to maintain that Aristotle's speech, undertak¬ 
ing, and pursuit are exactly the same as Plato's speech, undertaking, and 
pursuit; and this is absurd and repugnant. We do claim, however, that 
there is no difference between them about fundamentals and intentions, 
as we have explained and will [further] explain, God, may He be exalted, 
willing! 


[chapter five: the syllogism] 

24. Another instance, too, is what has been unduly assumed by Ammo- 
nius 26 and many of the schoolmen among those who succeeded him in his 
movement, the latest of whom is Themistius, 27 to the effect that the con¬ 
clusion of a mixed necessary and contingent syllogism will be contingent 


26. Though the reference here and in section 58 best fits the Ammonius, son of Her- 
mias, who was the head of the school of Alexandria at the end of the fifth century c.E. and 
beginning of the sixth, Alfarabi's attempt to link Ammonius with Themistius makes it 
appear that he is referring instead to Ammonius Saccas, ca. 175-250 C.E. The latter was the 
teacher of Plotinus, contemporary of Origen, and reputed founder of Neoplatonism, 
whereas the former was a student of Proclus and teacher of Philoponus, Asclepius, Olym- 
piodorus, Damascius, Simplicius, and most likely also of Boethius. Above all, he was 
responsible for bringing Aristotle's teaching into harmony with Christian doctrine. See 
Muhsin Mahdi, "Alfarabi against Philoponus," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 26 (Oct. 1967) 
no 4: 233-35 and "The Arabic Text of Alfarabi's 'Against John the Grammarian' " in 
Medieval and Middle Eastern Studies in Honor of Aziz Suryal Atiya, ed. Sami A. Hanna (Leiden: 
E. J. Brill, 1972), p. 269; also Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, article 140, "Ammonios Sac¬ 
cas," by Richard Goulet, vol. 1, pp. 166-68; and article 141, "Ammonios d'Alexandrie," by 
Henri Dominique Saffrey and Jean-Pierre Mahe, vol. 1, pp. 168-70. 

The term translated in what follows immediately as "movement" is the same one 
translated heretofore as "procedure" ( madhhab). 

27. Themistius, died 334 C.E., was a Greek philosopher and teacher who gained fame 
as the author of paraphrases of a number of Aristotle's works. 



138 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


and not necessary when the major premise is necessary. They attribute 
that to Plato and claim that in his books he sets forth syllogisms whose 
major premises are found to be necessary and whose conclusions are con¬ 
tingent. Such is the syllogism he sets forth in the [7b] Timaeus, where he 
says: "Existence is more excellent than non-existence, and nature always 
longs for what is more excellent." 28 They allege that the conclusion result¬ 
ing from these two premises, namely, "nature longs for existence," is not 
necessary in a [number of] respects. One is that there is no necessity in 
nature and that what is in nature is probable existence. The other is that 
nature may long for non-existence when existence is consequently accom¬ 
panied by harm. They allege that the major premise of this syllogism is 
necessary because of his saying "always." On the other hand, Aristotle 
explicitly declares that the syllogism whose premises are a mixture of nec¬ 
essary and contingent, with the major being necessary, will accordingly 
have a necessary conclusion. 29 This is an apparent difference. 

25. We say then: There is no statement at all of Plato's in which he explic¬ 
itly declares that conclusions such as these are either necessary or contin¬ 
gent; that is something only claimed by these later [commentators]. They 
allege that syllogisms of that approach may be found in Plato, one of them 
being what we have recounted. What led them to this belief is making few 
distinctions and mixing up the art of logic with natural science. That is, 
they find that the syllogism is composed of two premises and three 
terms—first, middle, and last. 30 And they find that the first term implies 
the middle in a necessary manner and the middle implies the last in a con¬ 
tingent manner. They are of the opinion that the middle term is itself the 
cause of the first term implying the last and the connection between the 
one and the other. And then they find that its state in relation to the last 
[8a] is contingent. So they say: "If the state of the middle term—which is 
the cause and reason for the connection of the f irst with the last—is contin¬ 
gent, how then is it permissible that the state of the first term in relation to 
the last be necessary?" 

What makes this belief tolerable to them is their looking into abstract 
things and meanings, their turning away from the stipulations of logic 

28. Though not precisely the same, an approximation of this syllogism occurs in 
Timaeus, 29e-3oa. 

29. See Prior Analytics, 1.9.30815-23. 

30. See Prior Analytics, 1.25.41836-4285; also 1.23.40837-41313. 



The Harmonization 139 


and the stipulations of what is said of all, 31 their neglect of the implication 
resulting for them from what is said of all, and the paucity of their cogni¬ 
tion that the pivot of the syllogism is what is said of all. If they knew, took 
thought about, and reflected upon the state of what is said of all, its stipu¬ 
lation, and its meaning—namely, that if all that is B, all that is included in 
B, all that becomes B, and all that is described as B is A, and AB exists, 
then, according to the stipulations of what is said of all, it is A by neces¬ 
sity—no doubt would have occurred to them nor would what they 
believed have been tolerable to them. 32 

26. Moreover, if the syllogisms they bring forth from Plato are truly 
reflected upon, most of them will be found 33 to go back to the types 34 of 
syllogisms composed of two affirmative [premises] in the second figure. 35 
And no matter how one looks into each one of these premises, it is evident 
that what they claim is untenable. 

27. Alexander of Aphrodisias 36 has already commented on the meaning 
of what is said of all and has defended Aristotle in what he claims. In the 
Analytics , 37 we ourselves have also expounded upon his statements deal- 

31. See Prior Analytics, 1.1.2^28-31; and Posterior Analytics, 1.4.73325-34. The term is 
al-maqid 'ala al-kull. For a fuller explanation, see Averroes, Talkhis Kitab al-Qiyas, (Middle 
Commentary on the Prior Analytics ), ed. Charles Butterworth et al (Cairo: The General 
Egyptian Book Organization, 1983), section 8, p. 67. 

32. The issue here and in the preceding section is the modality of the premises, an 
issue Aristotle discusses at great length in the Prior Analytics; see i.2.25ai-22.4obi6, esp. 
1.9.30815-23 and 1.12.3237-14. 

33. Reading yujad, with the Princeton Garrett manuscript, rather than wajadii ("they 
would find"), with the majority of the manuscripts. 

34. Though all of the manuscripts have suwar ("forms"), it is usual to speak of the 
"types" ( durub ) of syllogisms in each figure; see sections 29-30. 

35. An example would be: "B is predicated of A," and "B is predicated of C." As Aris¬ 
totle explains, there is no syllogism in this figure when both premises are affirmative; see 
Prior Analytics, i.5.26b34-28a9, esp. 27bn-i2. See also Alfarabi, Kitab al-Qiyds, in al-Man- 
tiq 'ind al-Farabf, ed. Raflq al-'Ajm (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1986), vol. 2, pp. 25-27, esp. 
27:17-18. 

36. He was a Peripatetic philosopher and head of the Lyceum between 189 and 211 c.E. 

37. Here, Alfarabi speaks simply of the Analutiqa. As is evident from the discussion in 
the preceding section (see note 35), the discussion of this subject is in Book One of the Prior 
Analytics. In his shorter commentary on the Prior Analytics referred to in note 35, Alfarabi 
says nothing about this subject, and only the Second Treatise of his Long Commentary on 
Aristotle's Prior Analytics is extant in Arabic; see Alfarabi, Shark al-Qiyas in al-Mantiqiyyat li- 
al-Farabt, al-Shuruh al-Mantiqiyya, vol. 2, ed. Muhammad TaqI Danish Pajuh (Qumm: Mak- 
tabat Ayyat Allah al-'Uzma al-Mar'ashl al-Najafl, 1409/1989). 



140 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


ing with this subject, explained the meaning of what is said of all, 
unequivocally commented on it, and differentiated between the syllogis¬ 
tic and demonstrative necessary in such a manner that anyone who 
reflects upon it will be spared from whatever occasions bewilderment 
about this subject. 

28. It has, therefore, become apparent that what Aristotle claims about 
this [8b] syllogism is as he claims and that no statement of Plato is to be 
found in which he explicitly contradicts Aristotle's statement. 

[chapter six: similar claims] 

29. Similarly, they [sc., the commentators] claim that Plato uses the type 
of syllogism in the first and third figures whose minor premise is nega¬ 
tive. Aristotle has already explained this in the Prior Analytics , 38 showing 
that it is not conclusive. 

30. Moreover, the ancient commentators have already discussed this 
doubt, analyzed it, and explained it. We ourselves have also expounded 
upon it in our long commentaries and have explained that what Plato sets 
forth in the Republic 39 and likewise Aristotle in his On the Heavens 40 leads 
one to conjecture that they are negations, but in fact they are not. Rather, 
they are retractive affirmations, as in his saying "the heaven is not-light 
and not-heavy." And it is the like with whatever is similar, since subjects 
with respect to them do exist. Whenever retractive affirmations occur in 
the syllogism, it is not impossible for the syllogism to be conclusive— 
whereas if they were to occur as simple negations, they would lead to 
[syllogistic] types that are not conclusive. 


38. Here, Alfarabi speaks of Aristotle's Prior Analytics by its more formal title, 
Analutiqa al-Qld. For the reference, see Prior Analytics, 1.4.2632-8 and 1.6.28338-2864. 

39. Literally, "Book of the Regime" ( Kitab al-Siyasa ). Except for his use of the term 
AblitTya —see sections 57 and 64—this is the way Alfarabi refers to the Republic in the rest of 
the treatise. 

40. The work is referred to here by its usual Arabic title. On the Heaven and the World 
(Ft al-Sama wa al-'Alam). Even though the Greek title of Aristotle's book is simply On the 
Heavens (Peri Ouranou), it is given this longer title in Arabic. For the reference, see Aristotle, 
On the Heavens, 1.3.269630. An explanation in keeping with what Alfarabi says here occurs 
in Averroes, Talkhis. al-Sama wa al-'Alam (Middle commentary on On the Heaven and the 
World), ed. Jamal al-Dln al-'AlawI (Fez: Kulliyyat al-Adab, 1984), pp. 83-84. 



The Harmonization 


141 


[chapter seven: additional claims] 

31. Another instance, also, is what Aristotle sets forth in Chapter Five of 
On Interpretation , 41 namely, that the negation of an affirmation having one 
of the contraries as a predicate is more contrary than the affirmation 
whose predicate is the contrary of that predicate. Now many people pre¬ 
sume that Plato differs with him about this opinion and is himself of the 
opinion that the affirmation whose predicate is contrary to the predicate 
of the other affirmation is more contrary. They prove that [9a] by many of 
his political and ethical statements, such as his mentioning in the Republic: 
"There is no justice intermediate between justice and injustice." 42 

32. However, what Aristotle is aiming at in On Interpretation and what 
Plato is aiming at in the Republic have eluded these [people], because the 
two intended purposes are divergent. Aristotle is only explaining the [log¬ 
ical] opposition of statements and looking into which of them exhibits the 
more intense and the more general opposition. A sign of this is in the 
proofs he adduces and his explaining that some things admit of no con¬ 
trariety whatever, even though there is nothing that does not have nega¬ 
tives opposed to it: 

Moreover, even if this must be the case in what we have not mentioned, 
we are still of the opinion that what has been said about this is correct. 
That is, either the contradictory belief must be the contrary in every case 
or not a contrary in any case at all. However, with things that admit of 
no contrary at all, falsehood is the belief opposing the truth. For exam- 


41. The work is referred to here by something approaching an Arabic transliteration 
of its Greek title; that is, the Greek Peri Hermeneias is rendered as Bdrirmaniyds (or, perhaps, 
BaryirmanTyas, or even Barlrmanyas). What Alfarabi here calls Chapter Five actually corre¬ 
sponds to Chapter Fourteen of Aristotle's On Interpretation; see 23^5-40 and also iyby-22. 
See also Sharh al-Farabf li-Kitab Aristutalis fi al-Tbara (Alfarabi's long commentary on Aris¬ 
totle's De Interpretatione), ed. Wilhelm Kutsch and Stanley Marrow (Beirut: Imprimerie 
Catholique, i960), 206:23-211:24 and 67:3-71: 12. F. W. Zimmermann has translated this 
work into English, giving indications of the pages and lines of the Kutsch-Marrow edition 
in the margins of his translation; see Al-Farabi's Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle's 
De Interpretatione (London: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 200-211 and 60-66. 

42. See Plato, Republic, 2.359a. In order to goad Socrates into saying what justice is, 
Glaucon explains what people claim to be the origin of justice: for them, it is the mean 
between doing injustice without being punished and suffering injustice without having 
revenge. Socrates' final answer to Glaucon's challenge is set forth at 9-588b-592b. 



142 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


pie, he who presumes that a human being is not a human being has 
actually made a false presumption. Even though these two beliefs are 
contraries, in all other beliefs the contrary is nothing but the contradic¬ 
tory belief . 43 

33. Now when Plato explained that there is no justice intermediate 
between justice and injustice, he only intended to explain political ideas 
and their ranks, not the opposition of arguments within them. And Aris¬ 
totle has mentioned in his "Book to Young Nicomachus about Politics" 
something similar to what Plato has explained. 44 

34. Hence it should be clear to anyone who considers those statements 
[9b] and looks into them equitably that there is no difference between the 
two opinions and no divergence between the two beliefs. On the whole, 
no statements by Plato have yet been found in which he expounds the log- 


43. This passage is a literal citation of Ishaq Ibn Hunayn's translation of Aristotle's De 

tnlerpretalione see Kitab al-'lbara in Mantiq Aristu, ed. 'Abd al-Rahman Badawl 

(Cairo: Matba'a Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 1948), vol. 1, 97:16-98:4, with minor differences: 

1 jura ("he is of the opinion"), instead of nura ("we are of the opinion") in line 2; aslan ("at 
all") omitted in line 5; and wa ("and") added before mithal dhalika ("for example") in line 7. 
Alfarabi quotes the first sentence of the passage in his Long Commentary on Aristotle's De 
Interpretatione and comments on it; then, omitting the next sentence, he cites the remainder 
of the passage and comments on it; see Sharh al-Farabi li-Kitab Aristutalis fT al-'Ibdra, 
210:16-17 210:18-211:12 and 211:14-18 with 211:19-214:28; also Al-Farabi's Commen¬ 

tary and Short Treatise on Aristotle's De Interpretatione, 204-5 and 205-10. 

English translations of the Greek passage vary slightly from the English translation of 
Ishaq Ibn Hunayn’s Arabic version that appears here. In J. L. Ackrill’s translation of Aris¬ 
totle's text, for example, we find: 

Further, if in other cases also the same must hold, it would seem that we have 
given the correct account of this one as well. For either everywhere that of the contra¬ 
diction is the contrary, or nowhere. But in cases where there are no contraries there is 
still a false belief, the one opposite to the true one; e.g. he who thinks that the man is 
not a man is deceived. If, therefore, these are contraries, so too elsewhere are the 
beliefs of the contradiction. 

See Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatione, trans. J. L. Ackrill (Oxford: Clarendon 
Press, 1963), pp. 66-67 (the emphasis is Ackrill's). 

44. Although the language is admittedly strange (Kilabuh ild Niqumakhus al-Saghir/Tal- 
Siydsa), this seems to be a reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; see Book 5, Chapters 
1-9, esp. 3.ii3ibi6-i7, 4.1132^8-19, 9.1136^5-29, and 9.1137327-30. In the introduction to 
his edition of Ishaq Ibn Hunayn's translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, 'Abd al- 
Rahman Badawl defers to Sa'id al-Andalusi's claim that this Niqumakhus al-Saghir work is 
distinct from either the Nicomachean Ethics or the Eudemian Ethics; see al-Akhlaq, Ta’lif 
Aristutalis, Tarjamal Ishaq Ibn Hunayn, ed. 'Abd al-Rahman Badawl (Kuwait: Wikalat al- 
Matbu'at, 1979), pp. 22-25. Yet see section 44 and note 59. 



The Harmonization 143 


ical ideas so many people allege that he and Aristotle differ about. Rather 
they prove what they allege by means of his various political, ethical, and 
theological statements—as we have already mentioned. 


[chapter eight: the condition of vision] 

35. Another instance, also, is the condition of vision and its manner; 
Plato is attributed with having an opinion about it that differs from Aris¬ 
totle's. Aristotle is of the opinion that vision comes about as an affection 
of the eye, 45 whereas Plato is of the opinion that vision occurs from 
something emanating from the eye and encountering the object of 
vision. Commentators from both camps have gone into excess in dealing 
with this question, adducing proofs, repugnant things, and forced 
meanings. They have twisted the statements of the leaders away from 
their intended customary usages, 46 given them interpretations that facil¬ 
itate repugnant things, and evaded the method of truth and fairness. 

36. When Aristotle's disciples heard Plato's disciples say that vision 
comes about by something emanating from the eye, they said: Now ema¬ 
nation pertains only to a body, and this body that they allege emanates 
from the eye is either air, light, or fire. If it is air, air already exists in what 
is between the eye and the object of vision; what need is there, then, for 
the emanation of additional air? 

If it is light, light also already exists in the air that is between the eye 
and the object of vision; so the emanation of another light is superflu¬ 
ous and not needed. Moreover, if it is light, why does it simultaneously 
need [xoa] motionless light between the eye and the object of vision? 
Why is this light that emanates from the eye not able to dispense with 
the light that it needs in the air? And why does one not see in the dark 
if what emanates from the eye is light? Moreover, if it is said that the 
light emanating from the eye is weak, why then does it not become 
more powerful when many eyes converge to look at the same thing at 
night, as light is seen to become more powerful with the convergence of 
many lamps? 


45. Literally, "sight" ( al-basar ). In this whole discussion, basar —rather than the 
more usual 'ayn —is used to denote eye. For Aristotle's views, see On the Soul, 
2.7.418327-419325; and for Plato's views, see Timaeus, 45b-46a and 67c-68d. 

46. The term is sunan, the plural of sunna. 



144 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


If it is fire, why does it not get hot and burn as fire does? Why is it not 
extinguished in water as fire is extinguished? Why does it penetrate 
downward as it penetrates upward, when fire is not such as to penetrate 
downward? 47 

Again, if it is said that what emanates from the eye is something other 
than these aforementioned things, why is there not clashing and colliding 
at the point of intersection of things looked at 48 so that those who are look¬ 
ing while facing one another are prevented from visual perception? These 
and similar repugnant things became tolerable to them when they dis¬ 
torted the utterance "emanation" from its popular intent and stretched it 
to the emanation that is said of bodies. 49 

37. Then, when Plato's disciples heard Aristotle's disciples saying that 
vision comes about from an affection, they distorted this utterance and 
said: Affection is inevitably either being influenced, transformed, or qual¬ 
itatively changed. This affection takes place either in the organ of vision or 
in the transparent body that is between the eye 50 and the object of vision. 
If it takes place in the organ of vision, it follows that the pupil is trans¬ 
formed in a single instant from an infinite number of colors into an infinite 
number [10b] of colors, which is absurd. For transformation occurs with¬ 
out fail over time and from one specific thing to another, definite thing. 
And if it is said that the part of the pupil that perceives white is other than 
the part that perceives black, it follows that these parts are separate and 
distinct, but they are not. If that affection attaches to the transparent 
body—that is, the air that is between the eye and the object of vision—it 
follows that a single subject admits of two contraries at the same moment, 
which is absurd. These and similar [arguments] are some of the repug¬ 
nant things they have adduced. 

38. Then Aristotle's disciples presented proofs for the soundness of what 
they claimed and said: If it were not that colors and their substitutes were 
actually carried by the transparent body, the eye would not perceive the 
stars and very distant objects instantaneously. Indeed, what is transferred 


47. See On the Heavens, 1.2.269318-19. 

48. Here and in the rest of the sentence, Alfarabi changes from the verb basara and its 
derivatives to the verb nazara and its derivatives. 

49. For the objections set forth here, see Aristotle, On Sense and Sensible Objects, 
2.437319-43933, esp. 437327-438^6. 

50. Seenote45- 



The Harmonization 145 


undoubtedly reaches the proximate distance before reaching the remote 
one. Yet, despite the remoteness of the distance, we observe the stars at 
the same moment that we observe what is closer; and there is no delay in 
that. Hence, it appears from this that the air that is actually transparent 
carries the colors of the objects of vision and conveys [them] to the eye. 

39. Plato's disciples presented proofs for the soundness of their claim that 
something issues and emanates from the eye and encounters the object of 
vision by [saying] that when the objects of vision are at varying distances, 
our perception of what is closer to the eye is more complete and more per¬ 
fect than our perception of what is more distant. The cause of this is that the 
thing emanating from the eye perceives by its power what is closer to it; 
[xia] it then continues to weaken, and its perception diminishes bit by bit 
until its power wanes and it does not at all perceive what is very remote 
from it. What confirms this claim is that whenever we extend our sight 
across a great distance and fix it on an object silhouetted by the light of a 
nearby fire, we perceive that object even if the distance between it and us is 
dark. If the matter were as Aristotle's disciples say, it would be necessary 
for the entire distance between us and the object of vision to be illuminated 
in order to carry the color and convey [it] to the eye. But since we find that 
the silhouetted body is visible from a distance, we know that something 
emanates from the eye, extends and cuts through the darkness, reaches the 
object of vision silhouetted by a certain light, and then perceives it. 

40. If both camps would let their eyes relax a little, moderate their 
glance, aim at the truth, and abandon the way of prejudice, they would 
know that the meaning the Platonists wanted by the utterance "emana¬ 
tion" 51 is other than the meaning of a body going out from one place [to 
another]. What compels them to articulate the utterance "emanation" is 
the constraint of expression, the narrowness of the language, and the lack 
of an utterance that denotes the issuing of [natural] powers without giv¬ 
ing the image of a "going out" that pertains to bodies. And [they would 
know] also that the meaning Aristotle's disciples intended by the utter¬ 
ance "affection" is other than the meaning of affection which is in quality 
along with transformation and change. 52 It is apparent that what is com- 

51. Here and throughout this discussion, the term is khuruj and means "going out." 

52. For Aristotle's explanations of affection that is in quality, see Categories, 8.9328- 
loaio, esp. 9a36-9bi, and also Metaphysics, 5.21.1022515-21. 



146 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


pared to a certain thing is other than that to which it is compared in its 
essence and substance. 53 

When we look into this matter equitably, we know that there is a 
power here linking the eye to the visible object; visual perception takes 
place by means of it in a manner [11b] other than that by which a body is 
linked with another body. And [we also know] that he who terms repug¬ 
nant the argument of Plato's disciples that a certain power emanates 
from the eye and encounters the object of vision has an argument no less 
repugnant than theirs when he says that the air carries the color of the 
object of vision and then conveys it to the eye so that it physically 
encounters it. Everything that follows from the statements of the former 
about the issuing and emanation of a power follows as well from the 
statement of the latter concerning the air carrying colors and conveying 
them to the eyes. 

41. It is apparent that these and similar things are subtle and fine 
notions that are accorded special attention and investigated by those 
who pretend to be philosophers. They were forced to express themselves 
in utterances close to these notions, for they found no simple utterances 
[already] set down to express the truth of the matter without equivoca¬ 
tion. This being the case, detractors have found an opportunity to argue; 
and so they have. Most of the controversy about notions like these occurs 
for the reasons we have mentioned. That is inevitably due to one of two 
things: the backwardness of the opponent or his willfulness. But he who 
is possessed of a sound mind, solid opinion, and upright intellect—if he 
is not determined upon falsification, prejudice, or contention—will sel¬ 
dom hold a belief different from [that of] a learned human being who. 


53. The term is inniyya. For this understanding of the term, see Alfarabi, Kitdb al-AIfnz 
al-Musta'mala fl al-Mantiq (The book of utterances employed in logic), ed. Muhsin Mahdi 
(Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1968), 45:4-10: 

There are particles that are joined to something to signify that the thing's existence 
is established and its correctness firm, like our saying inna with a shadda on the nun. 
For example, there is our saying "inna God is one" and "inna the world is finite" 
Therefore, the existence of something is sometimes called its inniyya, and the essence 
of a thing is called its inniyya. Likewise, the substance of something is also called its 
inniya. Thus we frequently use our saying "the inniya of something" instead of our 
saying "the substance of something". For we are of the opinion that there is no differ¬ 
ence between our saying, "What is the substance of this garment?" and saying, "What 
is its inniya?" Yet the latter is not as generally known as the former among the multi¬ 
tude; and the practitioners of the sciences use the latter frequently. 



The Harmonization 147 


when seeking to explain an obscure matter and elucidate a subtle notion, 
necessarily articulates an utterance that does not relieve the one forming 
a concept of it of the confusion befalling equivocal and metaphorical 
utterances. 54 


[chapter nine: moral habits of the soul] 

42. Another instance is the moral habits of the soul and their presuming 
that Aristotle's opinion about them differs from Plato's opinion. That is 
because Aristotle explicitly declares in his Nicomachean Ethics 55 that [12a] all 
moral habits are habits, that they undergo change, that none of them is by 
nature, and that a human being is capable of moving from one to another 
by habituation. Plato explicitly declares in the Republic and especially in the 
Statesman that nature prevails over habit; that whenever the mature become 
naturally inclined to a certain moral habit, it is difficult for them to break it; 
and that when they do intend to break that moral habit, they become more 
embedded in it. 56 To illustrate this, he cites the example of a tree that has 
intruded upon a road by its inclination and crookedness: If one intends to 
clear the road, it must be pulled in the other direction; otherwise, if we leave 
it to its course, it will take more from the road than it already has. 57 No one 
who hears these two discourses will doubt that there is a difference 
between Aristotle and Plato on the issue of moral habits. 

43. In truth, the matter is not as they presume because in his book 
known as the Nicomachea Aristotle discusses the political laws, as we have 


54. In other words, such a person will discern what this learned person is trying to 
explain and will do so despite the ambiguities of the explanation. 

55. Literally, "The Book of Nicomachea" (.Kitab Niqumakhhya): see note 44. For 
the reference here, see Nicomachean Ethics, 2.i.no3ai5-no3b2; see also Categories, 
8.8b27-9ai3. 

56. In the Republic, especially at 7.5i8d-e, Socrates seems to agree that ordinary virtues 
can be produced by habituation. The capacity for other virtues, however, like the aptitude 
for wisdom, must be innate or natural and thus cannot be produced by habituation alone; 
see 5186-5193. In the Statesman, at 3086-3093, the Eleatic Stranger states that there are some 
who do not have the capacity to acquire any virtues because they have a defective or evil 
nature. 

57. There is no passage in either of these works that sets forth such an example. In the 
Republic, however, Socrates does discuss plants and the way their cultivation resembles the 
education of children in moral habits; see 6-49id-492b. See also Richard Walzer, "New 
Light on Galen's Moral Philosophy," in Creek into Arabic: Essays on Islamic Philosophy, 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), pp. 158-59; and Aristotle, Nicomachean 
Ethics, 2.9.1 i09b5-7- 



148 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


already explained in a number of places in our commentary on that 
book. 58 Even had he also discussed moral habits, as Porphyry and many 
later commentators say [he did], his discussion would have been about 
moral laws—and a legal discussion is always universal and uncondi¬ 
tional, and not relative to anything else. Clearly, if looked at uncondition¬ 
ally, each moral habit will be known to be subject to being transformed 
and altered, albeit with difficulty and strain; nor is anything pertaining to 
the moral habits exempt from change and transformation. 

An infant whose soul is still potential does not actually possess any of 
the moral habits, sciences, or traits [12b] in general; he possesses them 
only potentially. And as long as he is in potentiality, he has the capacity to 
receive a thing or its contrary. Whenever he acquires one of two con¬ 
traries, it is possible to break him of the acquired contrary by the other, 
unless his constitution weakens and he is afflicted by a kind of decay—like 
what occurs to one subject to privation and abundance who becomes such 
that the two [contraries] no longer alternately obtain in him due to a kind 
of decay and lack of capacity. If this is so, then no moral habit—if looked 
into unconditionally—is by nature exempt from change and alteration. 

44. Plato looks into the kinds of political regimes—which are easier and 
which more difficult [to establish], which more useful and which more 
harmful. He looks into the conditions of those who bring about and those 
who found regimes—which of them do so more easily and which with 
more difficulty. Upon my life, anyone reared in a certain moral habit will 
have great difficulty breaking it; but what is difficult is not impossible. 
Aristotle does not deny that for some people and some individuals it is 
easier to transfer from one moral habit to another and for others it is 


58. There are many references in the ancient bibliographers to this commentary by 
Alfarabi on the Nicomachean Ethics, but it has not come down to us. In his Ta’rikh al- 
Hukama’ (History of the sages), al-Qiftl includes a Kitab al-Akhlaq (Book of moral habits) 
among Alfarabi's works; see J. Lippert, ed. (Leipzig: Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 
1903), p. 279. Ibn Abl Usaybi'a mentions a commentary (shark) on the beginning of the book 
on ethics by Aristotle; see 'Uijiin al-Anba fiTabaqat al-Atibba (Sources of information about 
the classes of physicians), ed. A. Muller (Konigsberg: 1884), vol. 2, p. 138. Finally, in his 
Kitab al-Fihrist (Catalogue), (Cairo: Matba'at al-Istiqama, n.d.), p. 382, Ibn al-Nadlm lists a 
commentary on a piece (qit’a) from Alfarabi's book on ethics by Aristotle. Yet in his sum¬ 
mary of Aristotle's philosophy, the Philosophy of Aristotle, Alfarabi says nothing about hav¬ 
ing commented on the Nicomachean Ethics. 

The term used for "laws" here and in the next sentence is al-qawanin, literally, 
"canons"; similarly, a derivative, al-qanum, is translated as "legal" rather than "canonic." 
In his political treatises, Alfarabi rarely has occasion to use either one. 



The Harmonization 


149 


harder, as he has explicitly declared in his book known as Nicomachea 
Minor . 59 He enumerated the reasons for the difficulty and ease of transfer¬ 
ring from one moral habit to another—how many they are, what they are, 
how each one of these reasons [functions], and what facilitates or 
impedes them. 

45. Whoever reflects on these statements truly and gives everything in 
them its due will recognize that there is no difference between the two 
[sages] in truth. This is something the surface [meaning] of the statements 
makes one imagine when one looks into each statement separately with¬ 
out considering the context [13a] of the particular statement, its rank, and 
the science to which it belongs. 

46. Here is a fundamental of great usefulness for the conceptualization 
of the sciences, especially in situations like these: namely, 60 that just as 
whenever matter is conceived of as having a certain form and another 
form then arises in it, it becomes—along with its [original] form—matter 
for the form arising in it. Then, if a third form arises in it, it becomes, along 
with both its [earlier] forms, matter for the third form arising in it. This is 
like wood, which has a form making it diverge from all other bodies. Then 
planks are made out of it, and then a bed is made out of the planks. Thus 
the form of the bed arises in the planks, and the planks are matter for it. 
And in the planks, which are matter in relation to the form of the bed, are 
many other forms—like the plank-form, the wood-form, the plant-form, 61 
and other eternal forms. So, too, whenever the soul is shaped by a given 
moral habit and then undertakes to acquire a new moral habit, the moral 
habits it already has are like things natural to it while the newly-acquired 
ones are habitual. Then, if it continues in this way, persists, and under¬ 
takes to acquire a third moral habit, those [previously acquired ones] will 
take on the position of the natural in relation to this newly-acquired one. 

So whenever you see Plato or anyone else saying that some moral 
habits are natural and others acquired, know what we have mentioned 
concerning this and understand the tenor of their statements, lest you find 


59. See note 44. Perhaps Alfarabi is referring here to the Eudemian Ethics; see 
3.2.2.1230337-12301)21. See also Nicomachean Ethics, 3.12.1119322-11191118. 

60. This is the beginning of a long comparison that takes the form of a single sentence 
in the Arabic. The significant comparison is between matter and the soul, and the part per¬ 
taining to the soul begins with the words "so, too, whenever the soul." 

61. The point is that the plant gives rise to a tree, from which wood is fashioned. 



150 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


the matter problematic and presume that some moral habits are truly 
impossible to break. For that is very repugnant, and the utterance itself i s 
self-contradictory if you reflect upon it. 


[chapter ten: about learning and recollection] 

47. [13b] Another instance, too, is what Plato expounds in his book 
known as the Phaedo: that learning is recollection. 62 He illustrates that by 
proofs he recounts from the questioning and answering Socrates had with 
Simmias on the subject of the equal and equality. That is, equality exists in 
the soul, and when a human being senses the equal—like a piece of wood 
or anything else equal to something else—he recollects the equality that is 
in his soul and thus knows that this equal is equal only due to an equality 
similar to that existing in the soul. And likewise the rest of what he learns 
is only his recollecting what is in the soul. 

Similarly, in his book known as the Meno, he expresses the doubt Aris¬ 
totle recounts in the Posterior Analytics about anyone seeking knowledge 
inevitably doing so in one of two ways: he is seeking either what he is 
ignorant of or what he knows. 63 If he is seeking what he is ignorant of, 
how will he be certain that his knowledge, when he does come to know, is 
what he is seeking? And if he already knows it, his quest for additional 
knowledge is superfluous and unnecessary. Then he draws out the dis¬ 
cussion in that book to [urge] that he who seeks knowledge of a certain 
thing seeks in something else only what already definitely exists in his 
soul—like the equality and inequality existing in the soul. Someone who, 
for example, seeks to know whether a piece of wood is equal or unequal 
[to something else] seeks only which of the two it definitely is. When he 
finds one of them, it is as though he has recollected what was existing in 
the soul. He thus associates the piece of wood and its condition with what 
was with him previously: if it was equal, then with equality; if it was 
unequal, then with [14a] inequality. 64 


62. See Phaedo, yze-y 6 c: also Meno, 8ic-86c. 

63. See Posterior Analytics, rA.yiai-yibS, esp. 71829; and Plato, Meno, 8od-e. Note, 
however, that the doubt as formulated here by Alfarabi is Socrates' restatement of Meno's 
position. Aristotle raises the question of the Meno to show why "all rational teaching and 
learning come from what is previously cognized" (7181-2) and claims the aporia of the 
Meno to be that "one can learn nothing or only what has been seen" (71830). 

64. See Phaedo, yze-y 6 c; Meno, 8id-86c; also Posterior Analytics, 2.19.99^5-34 and 
iooa3-ioobi7. 



The Harmonization 151 


48. Most people have made presumptions regarding these arguments 
that go beyond all limits. Those inclined to the argument about the soul's 
remaining after it separates from the body go to extremes in interpreting 
these arguments, distort them from their customary usages, 65 and 
blithely presume to treat them as demonstrations. They do not know that 
Plato is merely recounting them on Socrates' authority in the manner of 
someone who wishes to verify a concealed matter by means of signs and 
allusions. But a syllogism based on signs is not a demonstration, as the 
sage Aristotle has made known to us in the Prior and Posterior Analytics 66 

Those who deny it [sc., the perdurance of the soul] have also gone to 
extremes in being repugnant and claimed that Aristotle differs from him 
[sc., Plato] regarding this opinion. They overlook his statement at the 
beginning of the Posterior Analytics where he begins by saying: "All 
instruction and all learning proceed only from previously existing cogni¬ 
tion." Then, shortly thereafter, he says: "A human being may learn some 
things of which he had previous knowledge; other things he knows inso¬ 
far as he learns about them at the same time—for example, all of the exist¬ 
ing things that fall under the universals." 67 

Oh, I wish I knew how the meaning of this statement departs in any 
way from what Plato says! However, an upright intellect, solid opinion, 
and an inclination to truth and fairness are wanting in most people. 
Hence, he who thoroughly and salutarily reflects upon the way knowl¬ 
edge, first premises, and learning are obtained will know that no diver¬ 
gence or difference exists between the opinions of the two sages on this 
point. We are pointing out a slight part of it, just enough to make the 
meaning clear so as to dissipate [14b] the doubts regarding it. 

49. Thus we say: it is manifestly clear that an infant possesses a soul that 
knows potentially and that has senses as instruments of perception. Sen¬ 
sory perception is only of particulars, and universals are obtained from 
particulars. Universals are experiences in truth. However, some experi¬ 
ences are obtained intentionally, others unintentionally. 68 It is customary 


65. See note 46. 

66. Here, Alfarabi refers to these writings by their traditional title, Analiitlqa al-Ula wa 
al-Thaniyya. The reference to the Posterior Analytics in the sentence after the next is, how¬ 
ever, to the "Book on Demonstration" (Kitab al-Burhan). For the teaching in question here, 
see Prior Analytics, 2.27.7oa3-7ob38, esp. 7033-10; and Posterior Analytics, i.6.74bs-7sa37. 

67. See Posterior Analytics, 1.2.71317-19; also 71819-29. 



152 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


for the multitude to call the universals obtained from a prior intention 
"experiences." Those a human being obtains unintentionally either have 
no name among the multitude, because they are not concerned about 
them, or have a name among the learned: thus they call them "first 
things," "cognitions," "principles of demonstration," and similar names. 

50. In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle has explained that he who loses a 
certain sense loses a certain knowledge. 69 Indeed, cognitions are obtained 
in the soul only by means of the senses. When cognitions are obtained in 
the soul only unintentionally and at the outset, a human being does not 
recollect when any part of them was obtained. Most people thus conjec¬ 
ture that they have always been in the soul and that there is a way to 
[obtain] knowledge other than by means of the senses. When such experi¬ 
ences are obtained in the soul, it begins to intellect, since intellect is noth¬ 
ing but experiences. The more of these experiences there are, the more 
complete an intellect will the soul be. 

Moreover, whenever a human being intends to be cognizant of a cer¬ 
tain thing and yearns to grasp one of its conditions, he undertakes to asso¬ 
ciate that thing with its condition by means of what he already knows. 
That is nothing [15a] but seeking what of that thing is existing in his soul. 
Thus when he yearns to be cognizant of whether a certain thing is living 
or not living, and the meaning of living and not living has already been 
obtained in his soul, he seeks either one of the two meanings by means of 
his mind, his senses, or both together; once he comes upon it, he becomes 
calm, feels assured, and delights in being released from the pain of per¬ 
plexity and ignorance. 

51. This is what the sage Plato says, namely, learning is recollection. For 
learning is but undertaking to know, and recollection undertaking to 
remember. And the yearning seeker is someone with a certain undertak¬ 
ing. Accordingly, whenever he finds allusions, signs, and meanings of 
what was previously in his soul in what he intends to cognize, it is as 
though he recollects it at that point. It is like someone looking at a body 
some of whose accidental characteristics resemble the accidental charac¬ 
teristics of another body he had been cognizant of but had forgotten; he 


68. Here and in what follows, this might also be understood as "spontaneously" (ghair 
qasad). 

69. See Posterior Analytics, 1.18.81338-39. 



The Harmonization 153 


then recollects it by what he perceives of its likeness. Intellect, without the 
senses, has no function peculiar to it except for [seizing] what is similar 
and conjecturing about the conditions of existing things being otherwise. 
For the senses perceive the condition of a composite being as composite, 
that of a separate being as separate, that of a base being as base, that of a 
noble being as noble, and so forth. Intellect, on the other hand, perceives 
the condition of each being as the senses perceive it and [perceives] its 
contrary as well. It thus perceives the condition of a composite being as 
both composite and separate, the condition of a separate being as both 
separate and composite, and so forth with the rest of similar things. 

52. Hence, whoever reflects upon our brief description of what the sage 
Aristotle has spoken extensively about at the end of the Posterior Analytics 
[15b] and in the De Anima , 70 and that has been expounded upon and 
closely investigated by the commentators, will know that what the sage 
mentions at the beginning of the Posterior Analytics, and which we have 
recounted in this argument, is close to what Plato has said in the Phaedo. 
There is, however, a difference between the two positions. That is, the sage 
Aristotle mentions this when he wants to clarify the question of knowl¬ 
edge 71 and the syllogism, whereas Plato mentions what he mentions when 
he wants to clarify the issue of the soul. For this reason, it has become 
problematic for most of those who look into their statements. What we 
have adduced is sufficient for anyone intent upon the right approach. 


[chapter eleven: the issue of whether 

THE WORLD IS ETERNAL OR GENERATED] 

53. Another is the issue of the world's being eternal or generated, 
whether it does or does not have an artisan who is its efficient cause. Some 
presume that Aristotle is of the opinion that the world is eternal and Plato 
of a different opinion, that is, that he is of the opinion that the world is 
generated and has a maker. 72 


70. For the reference to the Posterior Analytics, see note 64. For De Anima, see 
2.4.417522-27, 3.3.427318-427515, 4.429310-429523, and 7.41331-431519. 

71. Reading al-'ilm, with all of the manuscripts except the Diyarbekir and Princeton 
Garrett manuscripts, which read al-'alim ("the one who knows"). 

72. The term is fa’il from the verb fa’ala ("to make" or "to do"). When the adjective 
form occurred in the preceding sentence to modify "cause," it was translated as "efficient" 
{'Ulatuh al-fa’ita). 



154 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


54. I say: what leads these people to such a base and reprehensible pre¬ 
sumption about Aristotle is his saying in the Topics that with one and the 
same proposition it is possible to formulate a syllogism based on widely- 
held premises for each of its two extremes, for example, whether the 
world is eternal or not eternal. 73 It has escaped those who disagree that, 
first, what is set forth as an example does not stand as a belief and, also, 
that Aristotle's purpose in the Topics is not to explain about the world; 
instead, his purpose is to explain about syllogisms composed of widely- 
held premises. He had found the people of his time disputing the question 
of whether the world is eternal [16a] or generated, just as they used to dis¬ 
pute about whether pleasure is good or bad, and supporting each of the 
two extremes of each question by syllogisms based on widely-held prem¬ 
ises. In that book and in his other books, Aristotle explained that the truth 
and falsehood of a generally accepted premise is not to be taken into 
account. For what is generally accepted may be false, yet is not discarded 
in dialectic because of its falseness; or it may be true and is thus used in 
dialectic because of its being generally accepted, and in demonstration 
because of its being true. Hence, it is apparent that it is not possible to 
ascribe to him the belief that the world is eternal due to the example he 
sets forth in this book. 


55. What also leads them to this presumption is what he mentions in the 
book On the Heavens about the whole having no temporal beginning, 74 for 
they presume that he is there speaking about the world's being eternal. 
That is not the case, since he had already explained in that and in other 
books about physics and theology that time is only the number of the 
motion of the celestial sphere and is generated from it. 75 Now what is gen¬ 
erated from a thing does not contain that thing. The meaning of his state¬ 
ment that the world has no temporal beginning is that it did not come into 


73. Here and in what follows, Alfarabi refers to the Topics by the title Kitnb Tubjqn 
rather than Kitnb al-Jmtal (Book of dialectic) as he did in section 22. The formulation of what 
Aristotle says in the Topics, r.rr.ro4bi2-r8, is somewhat awkward here, but the point 
becomes clearer in what follows; see also Alfarabi, Kitnb al-jndal in nl-Mantiq hint nl-Fariibr, 
ed. Rafiq al-'Ajam (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq, 1986), vol. 3, 80:7-82:14. Aristotle is merely 
explaining, as part of his introduction to dialectical reasoning, that there is such confusion 
with respect to some questions that it is sometimes possible to argue either side of a propo¬ 
sition and to find persuasive premises to support such arguments. See also Topics, 
i.2.ioia25-ioib4; and Alfarabi, Kitnb al-Jadal, 32:11-34:20. 

74. See On the Heavens, 1.10.279^7-33. 

75. See On the Heavens, 1.9.279315; at 2.4.287324-27, Aristotle identifies the revolution 
of the heaven as constituting the measure for motion. 



The Harmonization 155 


being gradually in parts as plants come into being, for example, or ani¬ 
mals. For what comes into being gradually in parts has some parts that 
precede others in time—time being generated from the motion of the 
celestial sphere. Thus there cannot possibly be a temporal beginning for 
its being generated. From that it is valid that it came to be only by the Cre¬ 
ator, may His majesty be magnified, innovating it in one stroke and in no 
time; and from its motion, time is generated. 

56. Whoever looks into his statements on Lordship in the book known 
as the Theology 76 [16b] will no longer be confused about his affirming [the 
existence] of the Artisan, the Innovator of this world. Indeed, in these 
statements the issue is too manifest to be concealed. There he explains that 
primary matter has been innovated by the Creator, may He be glorified 
and magnified, out of nothing, and that it has become corporeal by the 
Creator, may His majesty be magnified, and by His will, then set in order. 
He has also explained in the Physics and, similarly, in On the Heavens that 
the whole could not be generated by fortune and chance. 77 This can fur¬ 
ther be inferred from the innovative order that is found among some parts 
of the world with respect to others. 

He has also explained there the issue of the causes—how many they 
are—and affirmed the efficient cause. And he has also explained there the 
issue of the bringer into being and the mover and that it is other than the 
brought into being and the moved. 78 And just as Plato, in his book known 
as the Timaeus, has explained that whatever is brought into being is 


76. This book is referred to here and in what follows as Uthulujiya, but is more com¬ 
monly known as Uthuliijiya Aristutalis or Uthulujtya Aristatalts. It is a pseudo-Aristotelian 
work that consists of a running paraphrase of the eight sections of the last three books of 
Plotinus's Enneads. The text has been published by 'Abd al-Rahman Badawi in his Aflutln 
'ind al-'Arab (Plotinus among the Arabs), (Cairo: Dar al-Nahda al-'Arabiyya, 1966), 
pp. 3-164. See also Dictionnaire des phitosophes antiques, article 414, "Aristote de Stagire," 
especially the section by Maroun Aouad entitled "La Theologie d'Aristote et autres textes du 
Plotinus Arabus," vol. 1, pp. 541-90; and Gerhard Endress, Proclus Arabus: Zwanzig 
Absclmitte aus der tnstitutio Theologica in arabischer Ubersetzung, eingeleitet, herausgegeben, 
und erklart (Beirut: 1973). 

The term translated here as "Lordship" is al-rububiyya. Though admittedly awkward 
in English, it is important to distinguish what Alfarabi means by rububiyya ("Lordship") 
from what he terms ilahiyya ("divinity") and, immediately below, riihdniyya ("spiritual¬ 
ity"). Moreover, awkward as are "Lordship" and "Lordly" in English, they point to 
notions more in keeping with theology—which is the point here—than do the terms "sov¬ 
ereignty" and "sovereign." 

77. See Physics, 2.5.i96bio-7.i98b3 and On the Heavens, 2.8.290330-35. 

78. See Physics, 2.3-i94bi6-7.i99b32and 8-4.254b7-9.266a9. 



156 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


brought into being only by a cause necessarily bringing it into being and 
that what is brought into being is not a cause of its own being, so has Aris¬ 
totle explained in the Theology that the one exists in every multiplicity, 
because any multiplicity in which the one does not exist would never 
end. 79 He demonstrates this by clear demonstrations, such as his state¬ 
ment that each part of the multiple is either one or not one. If it is not one, 
it is inevitably either multiple or nothing. If it is nothing, it results that 
multiplicity does not come together out of it. And if it is multiple, what 
then is the difference between it and multiplicity? It would also follow 
from this that what is infinite is greater than what is infinite. 

Then he explains that everything in this world in which the one exists is 
therefore one in one respect and not one in another respect. [17a] If it is not 
one in truth but the one exists within it, the one would be other than it and 
it would be other than the one. He then explains that the true one is what 
provides oneness to all the rest of the existing things. Then he explains that 
the multiple is by all means after the one and that the one precedes the 
multiple. He then explains that every multiplicity that approaches the true 
one is less multiple than what is at a distance from it, and vice versa. 

57. Having introduced these premises, he then ascends to a statement 
about the corporeal and the spiritual parts of the world. He explains in a 
salutary manner [a] that they have all been generated by the Creator, may 
He be glorified and magnified, innovating them and [b] that it is He who 
is the efficient cause, the true one, [and the] innovator of everything, in the 
same manner as Plato explains in his books on Lordship, like the Timaeus 
and the Ablitiya 80 and in other statements of his. Again, in the books of his 
Metaphysics, Aristotle ascends from necessary demonstrative premises 
until he makes evident the oneness of the Creator, may His majesty be 
magnified, in book Lambda. 81 Then he descends, returning to explain 


79. See Timaeus 270293. That is, it would be infinite. For a discussion similar to what 
Alfarabi relates here, see Uthulujiya Aristatalis, ed. Badawl, 134:5-135:11 and 148:5-149:19; 
see also Physics, 8.8.263a4-263b8. 

80. It is not clear to what dialogue this is meant to refer. Though the term is somewhat 
similar to the ones he has used previously to refer to the Statesman, Kitab al-Buliti al-Saghir 
in section 17 and Kitab Buliti in section 42, there is enough difference to make one doubt 
that this is the dialogue Alfarabi has in mind. Moreover, the Statesman is not normally con¬ 
sidered to be a work about lordship. 

Persuasive as is Muhsin Mahdi's conjecture that Ablitiya renders the Greek title for the 
Republic, namely, Politeia, it fails to account for why Alfarabi also refers to the Republic as 
the Kitab al-Siyasa; see Philosophy of Plato, section 33, note 1. 

81. See Metaphysics, 12.6.107^3-8.1074^4 and 9.1074615-10.107633, esp. 7.1072613-31. 



The Harmonization 157 


exhaustively how the previous premises are verified—and that in a man¬ 
ner no one before him has surpassed nor anyone after him has achieved, 
even to our day. Is it then to be presumed that someone with such an 
approach believes in denying [the existence of] the Artisan and in the eter¬ 
nity of the world? 

58. Ammonius 82 has a separate epistle that mentions the arguments of 
these two sages affirming [the existence of] the Artisan, which we need 
not present here since it is so well-known. Were it not that the path we 
are pursuing in this treatise is the middle path—which, were we to 
eschew it, [17b] we would be like someone who prohibits a moral habit 
and then practices one like it—we would have spoken at length and said 
that none of the adherents of the [various] schools, sects, laws, 83 and the 
rest of the factions has the knowledge about the generation of the world, 
affirming [the existence of] its Artisan, and giving a summary account of 
the issue of innovation that Aristotle, Plato before him, and those who 
pursue their approach have. That is, that all the arguments of the 
learned in the rest of the schools and sects do not, upon detailed analy¬ 
sis, indicate anything other than the eternity of clay 84 and its perdu- 
rance. 

If you would like to grasp that, look into the books compiled about 
"beginnings," the accounts related in them, and the traditions recounted 
from their predecessors to see marvelous things: one says that at the 
outset there was water, and it was set in motion; foam gathered from 
which the earth was constituted; and smoke rose up from which the 
heavens were arranged. 85 Then [look into] what the Jews, the Magians, 
and the rest of the nations say, all of which indicates transformations 
and changes that are contraries of innovation. And [look into] what 
there is in all their accounts about what will eventually happen to the 
heavens and the two earths, that is, these two being folded, pulverized. 


82. See section 24 and note 26. In "Alfarabi against Philoponus," Muhsin Mahdi indi¬ 
cates that Simplicius, a student of Ammonius the son of Hermias, "mentions this work 
and explains that it is devoted to proving that Aristotle's god is not merely the final cause 
of the world but its efficient cause or artificer as well"; see pp. 235-37 and note 9- 

83. The term is shara’i'; see note 6. 

84. The term is al-tina and could also be understood as "matter" or even as "nature." 
"Clay" seems a better translation here, because it evokes the idea of earth, one of the four 
elements, and thus suggests that these other learned men did not go very far in their expla¬ 
nations. See also Quran, 3:49, 5:110, 6:2, 7:12, 17:61, 23:12, 32:7, 37:11, 38:71, and 38:76. 

85. See Quran, 11:7, 13:17, and 41:1. 



158 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


scattered, cast into Hell, and things like that, none of which indicates 
pure annihilation. 86 

Had God not rescued intelligent and mindful people by means of 
these two sages and those pursuing their approach, who clarified the 
issue of innovation by clear and persuasive proofs—namely, that it is 
making something exist out of nothing; that whatever is brought into 
being from a certain thing will by all means revert to that thing through 
corruption; that the world is innovated out of nothing and will thus revert 
to nothing; and similar signs, proofs, and demonstrations [18a] with 
which their books are replete, especially those dealing with Lordship and 
the principles of nature—mankind would have remained in perplexity 
and bewilderment. 87 

59. We, however, have a method that we pursue in this matter to make 
it evident that those legal arguments 88 are extremely sound and correct. 
It is that the Creator, may His majesty be magnified, is the governor of 
the world. As we explained in our discourse on providence, not even the 
weight of a mustard seed escapes His attention; nor does any part of the 
world elude His providence. 89 Indeed, universal providence permeates 
the particulars; every part of the world and of its conditions is set up in 
the most appropriate and skillful ways—as the books on anatomy, the 
uses of bodily organs, and similar natural discourses indicate. And every 
one of the things of which it is constituted is entrusted to someone who 
necessarily undertakes it with utmost skill and mastery, reaching from the 
physical on up to the political, legal, and demonstrative parts. Thus the 
demonstrative are entrusted to those having clear minds and upright 
intellects, the political to those having solid opinions, and the legal to 
those possessing spiritual inspirations. The most general of all these are 
the legal, and their utterances go beyond the extent of the intellects of 
those to whom they are addressed. Therefore, they are not blamed for 
what they are unable to conceptualize. 


86. See Genesis, chapters 1-8 and passim; also Quran, 14:48, 46:1-6, 82:1-4, 89:21, and 
101:4-5. 

87. See Quran, 28:88. 

88. Here, and in the rest of this section, the term is al-shar'iyya or al-shar’iyyat-, see 
note 6. For the term "governor of the world" in the next sentence, see Book of Religion, sec¬ 
tion 27. 

89. See Quran, 21:47 and 31:16. 



The Harmonization 159 


60. Thus someone who forms a concept of the First Innovator as corpo¬ 
real and as acting with motion and in time is then not capable of forming 
a concept in his own mind of something more subtle than that and more 
suitable for Him. Whenever he conjectures that He is incorporeal [18b] or 
that He acts without motion, there is no way at all for him to form a con¬ 
cept of it. Were he compelled to do so, his error and straying would 
increase. He is [thus] excused and is correct in what he conceptualizes and 
believes. Then [there is] someone whose mind is capable of knowing that 
He is incorporeal and that His action is without movement, yet is inca¬ 
pable of forming a concept of Him as not being in a spatial location. If he 
were compelled and obligated to [accept] that, that would lead him to 
what is worse and more harmful. He, too, is correct in what he believes 
and excused for what he knows. 

61. Similarly, 90 the majority of the multitude is incapable of recognizing 
[how] a thing is generated from nothing or reverts to nothing through cor¬ 
ruption. For this reason, they have been addressed with what they are 
capable of conceptualizing, perceiving, and understanding. It is, then, not 
admissible that anything pertaining to that be ascribed to mistake or 
weakness; rather, it is all proper and upright. For the true methods of 
demonstration are derived from the philosophers, 91 among whom these 
two sages—I mean, Plato and Aristotle—are eminent. And the upright, 
persuasive methods of demonstration are derived from the disciples of 
the laws who are assisted by kinds of revelation and inspirations. 

62. Now for one who has taken this approach and position in elucidat¬ 
ing the proofs and setting up the demonstrations for [proving] the one¬ 
ness of the true Artisan and whose arguments about the manner of 
innovation and summing up of its meaning are like the arguments of 
these two sages, it would be reprehensible to presume that corruption has 
befallen what they believe or that their opinions are disordered. 


90. Reading ka-dhalika, with all of the manuscripts except the Diyarbekir manuscript, 
which reads li-dhdlika ("consequently"). 

91. Reading al-falasifa with all of the manuscripts except the Diyarbekir and Princeton 
Garrett manuscripts, which read ha’ula’i al-falasifa ("these philosophers"). In the next sen¬ 
tence, the term translated as "laws" is al-shara’i'; see notes 6 and 83. 



160 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


[chapter twelve: the forms or divine models] 

63. Another instance, also, is the issue of the forms, it being ascribed to 
Plato that he affirms them [19a] and to Aristotle that he is of a different 
opinion about them. 

64. In many of his statements, Plato points out that existing things have 
abstract forms in the divine world, and he sometimes calls them "divine 
models." In the Ablitiya 92 there is a discussion indicating that these models 
neither perish nor undergo corruption, but perdure, and that the ones that 
do undergo corruption are the existing things that are brought into being. 

65. And in the books of Aristotle's Metaphysics , 93 there is a discussion 
reproving those who speak of models and forms that are said to exist 
independently in the divine world without undergoing corruption. He 
explains the repugnant things resulting from that. For instance, lines, 
planes, bodies, stars, and celestial spheres would have to exist there; then 
movements and rotations for these celestial spheres would [have to] exist. 
Furthermore, sciences like the science of astronomy and the science of 
melodies, of harmonic and non-harmonic sounds, of medicine, of geome¬ 
try, of straight and curved measures, of hot and cold things, and, in gen¬ 
eral, of active and passive qualities, of universals and particulars, and of 
matters and forms would [have to] exist there. [These and] other repug¬ 
nant things articulated in those statements are such that it would take too 
long to mention here. 

Because they are generally known, we can dispense with repeating 
them here as we have done with the other statements where we pointed 
them out and where they occur. We will leave any mention of them to 
anyone who would search them out where they occur and gratify himself 
by looking into and reflecting upon them. For the purpose we are intent 
upon in this treatise of ours is to elucidate the method which, if pursued 
by the seeker after the truth, will not lead him astray but will enable him 
to grasp the truth aimed at [19b] in the statements of these two sages, 
without deviating from the right approach to [pursue] what ambiguous 
utterances cause to be imagined. 

92. For the work identified here as AblTtlya, see section 57 and note 80. If Alfarabi does 
have the Republic in mind here, he may be referring to discussions of the theory of the forms 
in the following passages: 5.4763-4803,6.5073-5116, 7.5173-0, and 10.5956-6036. 

93. See Metaphysics, 3.2.997334-998319. 



The Harmonization 


161 


66. We sometimes find that Aristotle, in his book on Lordship known as 
the Theology, affirms the spiritual forms, explicitly declaring that they exist 
in the world of Lordship. 94 Taken on their surface, however, these state¬ 
ments inevitably entail one of three [possibilities]: either they are contra¬ 
dictory; or some are Aristotle's while others are not; or they have 
meanings and interpretations that agree on an inner level while their sur¬ 
face meanings disagree, and they thus correspond to and agree with each 
other. 95 To presume that despite his proficiency and intense wakefulness 
and the loftiness of these notions (1 mean, the spiritual forms), Aristotle 
would contradict himself in a single science—namely, the Lordly sci¬ 
ence—is improbable and reprehensible. And that some are Aristotle's and 
others not is even more farfetched, since the books articulating those 
statements are too well-known to presume some to be spurious. It 
remains, then, that they have interpretations and meanings which, once 
uncovered, will eliminate doubt and perplexity. 

67. Thus we say: since the Creator, may His majesty be magnified, differs 
in substance and essence from anything else in that He is of a more vener¬ 
able, more excellent, and higher species, nothing is analogous to, resem¬ 
bles, or is similar to His substance either in truth or metaphorically. Yet, 
despite this, we cannot avoid describing Him and applying to Him some of 
these synonymous utterances. It is therefore necessarily requisite for us to 
know that with each utterance we state as one of His attributes. He remains 
in essence remote [20a] from the idea we conceptualize from that utter¬ 
ance. For, as we said. He is of a more venerable and higher species. Thus if 
we say that He exists, we nonetheless know that His existence is unlike the 
existence of anything subordinate to Him. And if we say He is living, we 
know that He is living in a more venerable manner than what we know liv¬ 
ing to be with respect to what is subordinate to Him. Such is the case with 
all the rest of them [sc., the attributes]. When this idea becomes deep- 
seated and established in the mind of the student of the philosophy that is 
beyond physics [sc., metaphysics], it will be easy for him to conceptualize 
what Plato, Aristotle, and those who pursue their approach have said. 


94. Though something like the spiritual forms are affirmed in this work, they are said 
to belong to the world of intellect; see UthulujTya AristatalTs, 159:11-164:2. 

95. This ("while their surface . . . each other") is the reading of all the manuscripts 
except the Diyarbekir and Princeton Garrett manuscripts. These two have the following 
variant: "and thus correspond to their surface meanings" (wa tatabiq 'ind dhalika 
zawdhiraha). 



162 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


68. Now let us return to where we took leave of him and say: since God, 
may He be exalted, is living, willing, and the Innovator of this world with 
all that is in it, is there any doubt that among the stipulations concerning 
the living and willing [God] is that He has a concept of what He wills to 
do and has within Himself the forms of what He wills to carry out? May 
God be exalted above all similitudes! Moreover, since His essence is per- 
during, no alteration or change is admissible in Him. And what pertains 
to His sphere is also perduring and neither perishes nor changes. If the 
existing things did not have forms and impressions within the essence of 
the living and willing One who brings into being, what then would He 
bring into existence and by what pattern would He direct Himself in 
what He does and innovates? Do you not know that whoever denies this 
idea with regard to the living, willing Agent must say that what He 
brings into existence is brought into existence only haphazardly, fatu¬ 
ously, and unintentionally, and that He does not willingly direct Himself 
toward an intended purpose? This is the ultimate of repugnant things! 

69. Hence, it is according to this meaning that you ought to be cog¬ 
nizant of and conceptualize the statements of those sages with respect to 
what they affirm of the divine forms, not as though they were appari¬ 
tions subsisting in other places outside this world. For when they are 
conceptualized according to that approach, [20b] one must assert the 
existence of innumerable worlds, all of which are similar to this world. 
The sage Aristotle has already explained in his books on physics what 
must follow from those who assert the existence of a multiplicity of 
worlds; 96 and the commentators have elucidated his statements with 
utmost clarity. 

70. One ought to consider this method, which we have frequently men¬ 
tioned, with respect to arguments about divine matters. It is of great ben¬ 
efit, is reliable in all of this, and neglecting it leads to much harm. In 
addition, one should know that necessity dictates applying synonymous 
utterances from physics and logic to those subtle and venerable ideas that 
are exalted above all descriptions and divergent from all the things that 
come into being and exist naturally. Even if one were intent upon invent¬ 
ing other utterances and contriving languages other than the ones being 
used, there would be no approach to utterances from which one could 


96. See, On the Heavens, 1.8.276318-9.27963. 



The Harmonization 163 


conceptualize anything other than what the senses cling to. Since neces¬ 
sity stands as an obstacle and intervenes between us and that, we limit 
ourselves to existing utterances, forcing ourselves to bear in mind that the 
divine meanings we express by means of these utterances are of a more 
venerable species and are other than we imagine and conceptualize. 

71. Plato's statements in the Timaeus and in many of his books about 
the soul and the intellect run the same course, [maintaining] that each 
belongs to a world different from the other and that those worlds are 
hierarchical, one higher and one lower, and the rest of what he says sim¬ 
ilar to that. 97 We must conceive of them in a manner similar to what we 
mentioned [21a] previously, that is, that by the "world of the intellect" 
he intends only its sphere and likewise by the "world of the soul," not 
that the intellect has a location, the soul a location, and the Creator— 
may He be exalted—a location, some higher and some lower, as is the 
case with bodies. That is something even beginners in philosophizing 
would find reprehensible, so how would those trained and schooled in it 
[assert it]? Indeed, by "higher" and "lower," he means the venerable and 
superior, not spatial location. And his statement "the world of the intel¬ 
lect" is only the way one says the "world of ignorance," the "world of 
knowledge," or the "world of the invisible," meaning by that the sphere 
of each of them. 

72. It is the same with what he says about the "overflowing" of the intel¬ 
lect to the soul and the "overflowing" of the soul to nature. By that, he 
means only the benefit the intellect provides by assisting the soul to retain 
the universal forms when it apprehends their particulars, by synthesizing 
them when it apprehends their details and separating them when it appre¬ 
hends them as collections, by obtaining for it the perishable and corrupt¬ 
ible forms lodged in it, and so forth concerning the rest of the ways the 
intellect assists the soul. By the "overflowing" of the soul to nature, he 
means the benefit it provides by yearning for what is useful for its subsis¬ 
tence, taking pleasure in it, either insistently or intermittently, and so 
forth. 

73. By the "return of the soul to its world after being released from its 
prison," he means that the soul, for example, is compelled to aid the natu- 


97. See, Timaeus, 4id—42d, 44d-45b, and 69e-72d. 



164 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


ral body in which it resides, and it is as though it yearns for rest. When it 
returns to its essence, it is as though it were released from a painful 
prison, to [return to] its own sphere which resembles it and to which it is 
suited. In this manner, all the other symbols we have not mentioned 
ought to be measured. [21b] The refinement and subtlety of those ideas 
prevent them from being expressed in a manner other than that used by 
the sage Plato and those who pursue his approach. 

74. The intellect, as the sage Aristotle has explained in his books about 
the soul, and similarly Alexander of Aphrodisias and other philosophers, 
is the most venerable part of the soul. Indeed, it comes into actuality only 
in the end. 98 By it, divine matters are known, and one becomes cognizant 
of the Creator, may His majesty be magnified. It is as though it were the 
closest being to Him in venerability, sublimity, and purity, but not in loca¬ 
tion. Then the soul follows it, because it is like an intermediary between 
the intellect and nature, for it possesses natural senses. Thus it is as 
though it were united at one end with the intellect, which is united with 
the Creator according to the approach we have mentioned, and at the 
other end with nature, which follows it in density but not in location. 

75. It is according to this approach or according to what is similar, which 
is difficult to describe in speech, that what Plato says in his statements 
ought to be known. Indeed, whenever they are taken in this fashion, all 
doubts and presumptions leading to the statement that there is a differ¬ 
ence between him and Aristotle regarding these ideas will disappear. Do 
you not see that whenever Aristotle wants to explain a certain condition 
of the soul, the intellect, or Lordship, he becomes circumspect and scrupu¬ 
lous in his speech, which he sets out in the form of riddles and similes? 
That is in his book known as the Theology, where he says: 

Sometimes I am alone with my soul a great deal and I cast off my body and 
become like an abstract, incorporeal substance. I enter my essence, return 
to it, [22a] and detach myself from all other things. I am at one and the 
same time knowledge, the knower, and the known. I see beauty and splen¬ 
dor in my essence such as to bewilder me with amazement. At that 
moment, I know that I am a minor part of the venerable world and that by 


98. The text is very obscure here: wa annah innama yasir bi-al-fi'l bi-akhirih. See, how¬ 
ever, De Anima, 3.4.429310-43039, esp. 429322-24, for 3n indication of the basic issue. 



The Harmonization 165 


my life I am active. When I am sure of this, I let my mind" ascend from 
that world to the divine cause 100 and become as though I were joined to it. 
Thereupon, light and splendor such that tongues are too dull to describe 
and ears to hear radiate to me. When I am immersed in that light, reach my 
limit, and can no longer bear it, I descend to the world of calculation. 
When I arrive in the world of calculation, calculation conceals that light 
from me, and at that moment I remember my brother Heraclitus when he 
commanded seeking and inquiring into the substance of the venerable 
soul by climbing up to the world of intellect . 101 

This is in a long discussion of his in which, struggling, he wants to 
explain these sublime meanings, but physical incapacity prevents him 
from perceiving what surrounds him. 

76. Anyone who would like to grasp a little of what he has pointed out— 
since much of it is difficult and remote—may observe in his own mind 
what we have mentioned and not chase after utterances in a completely 
slavish manner. Perhaps he will perceive some of what is intended by 
those symbols and riddles. They [sc., those who claim that there is a dif¬ 
ference between Plato and Aristotle] have exaggerated and struggled; so 
have those who have come after them in this day of ours and whose intent 
is not truth but whose objective is prejudice and seeking for faults. They 
have distorted and altered insistently. 102 Even we—despite great effort, 
toil, and our complete intention to uncover and elucidate—know that we 
have attained a very slight amount of what is required, [22b] because in 
itself the matter is inaccessible. 

[chapter thirteen; recompense for good 

AND EVIL ACTIONS] 

77. Among what it is presumed the two sages Plato and Aristotle hold 
no opinion about nor believe in is recompense for good and evil actions. 


99. Reading dhihnl, with the Diyarbekir and Princeton Garrett manuscripts; all the 
other manuscripts read dhdtt ("my essence"). 

100. Reading al- r illa, with the Diyarbekir and Princeton Garrett manuscripts; all the 
other manuscripts read al-'alam ("the world"). 

101. See Uthulujiyd Aristdtalis, 22:2-11 and 23:1-2. 

102. Reading wa lam ya'dharu, with the Diyarbekir manuscript; the other manuscripts 
have wa lam yaqdiru ("without success"). 



166 Alfarabi, The Political Writings 


78. Yet Aristotle explicitly declares in speech that recompense is neces¬ 
sary by nature. In a letter he wrote to the mother of Alexander [the Great] 
when the news of his death reached her, and she grieved for him and was 
resolved to immolate herself, he says: 

God's witnesses on earth—that is, the knowing souls—have all agreed that 
Alexander the Great is one of the most excellent of the outstanding men of 
the past. Praiseworthy monuments have been established for him in the 
central places of the earth and in the extremities of human habitation from 
East to West. God will surely not bestow upon anyone what He has 
bestowed upon Alexander the Great except on the basis of preference and 
choice—and the good human being is the one God has chosen! In some, the 
signs of having been chosen are manifest; in others, they are concealed. 
Among those past and present, Alexander the Great is the most well- 
known for [these] signs: he has the finest reputation, his life is the most 
praised, and his death is the most flawless. Oh Mother of Alexander, if you 
are concerned about the great Alexander, out of love for him, do not take 
on what will distance you from him and do not bring on yourself what will 
stand between you and him when you meet in the company of the good; 
strive for what will bring you closer to him—most importantly, take upon 
your immaculate self the responsibility of making offerings in the temple 
of Zeus. 

Thus, this and what follows in his discourse are a clear sign [23a] that 
he believed in the necessity of recompense. 

79. And Plato has consigned to the end of the Republic the tale articulat¬ 
ing the resurrection, standing forth, judgment, justice, scales, and the dis¬ 
pensing of reward and punishment for good and evil deeds. 103 

[conclusion] 

80. So, whoever reflects on the statements of these two sages that we 
have mentioned and then does not swerve to sheer contentiousness will 
be spared pursuing corrupt presumptions and disordered conjectures and 


103. The tale in question is the Myth of Er set down at the very end of the Republic, 
io.6i4a-62id. 



The Harmonization 167 


acquiring the burden of attributing to these virtuous men what they are 
innocent of and exempt from. 

81. With this discussion, we conclude our statement about the harmo¬ 
nization between the two opinions of the two sages, Plato and Aristotle, 
that we wanted to explain. Praise be to God alone. 




Glossary 


(arabic-english) (arabic-english) 


ALIF 


ithar 

preference 

akhir 

final 

muta’akhkhir 

last 

i’tilaf 

concord 

ta’ammala 

to reflect 

anniyya (also inniyya) 

thatness 

ista’hala 

to deserve 

BA’ 

bukhl 

greed 

bada’a 

to innovate 

badhah 

haughtiness 

tabdhlr 

wastefulness 

bara’a 

to create 

basar 

vision 

batata 

to nullify 

bighda 

hatred 

balagha 

to obtain 

bala bi 

to keep in 
mind 

TA’ 

tabi'a 

to succeed 

tala 

to follow 


tharwa 

tha’ 

affluence 

thawab 


reward 

jubn 

JIM 

cowardice 

jarbadha 


deception 

jarira 


outrage 

jaza’ 


requital 

jaza' 


apprehen¬ 

jalala 


siveness 

majesty 

majmu ' 


aggregate 

jamil 


noble 

jumhur 


public 

tajannub 


avoidance 

jihad 


struggle 

mahabba 

H A ’ 

love 

hadatha 


to generate 

hirs 


covetousness 

inhiraf 


deviation 

hasan 


fine 

inhasara 


to be 



restricted 


169 



170 Glossary 


(arabic-english) 


H A ’ ( cont.) 


hasala 


to attain, 
reach 

tahaffaza 


to be heedful 

hikma 


wisdom 

humq 


stupidity 

hunka 


sophistica¬ 

tion 

hdza 


to master 

haya 

KH A ’ 

modesty 

khibb 


fraudulence 

khubth 


deceitfulness 

mukhatala 


wiliness 

khasis 


vile 

khilaf 


difference 

ikhtilaf 


disagreement 

khulq 


moral habit 

khihv min 


devoid of 

khawf 


fear 

khair 


good 

lakhyll 


imaginative 

evocation 

lakhayyul 

DAL 

imagination 

mudabbir 


governor 

daha’ 

DHAL 

cunning 

dhaka’ 


quick¬ 

wittedness 

dhahl 


absentmind 

edness 

dhihn 

ra’ 

discernment, 

mind 

rutba 


rank 

martaba 


ranking 

rahma 


compassion 


(arabic-english) 


rakhawa 

slackness 

radi 

bad 

radhlla 

vice 

taraffuh 

luxury 

riqqat al-nafs 

delicateness of 
soul 

rada 

to content 

ridan 

contented¬ 

ness 

irada 

volition 

tarkib 

synthesis, 

combination 

rawiyya 

deliberation 

ZAY 

zawal 

extinction 

SIN 

sabtl 

approach 

sakhd’ 

liberality 

sakhita 

to annoy 

saddada nahwa 

to aim, direct 
toward 

sa'a 

to strive 

maskan 

dwelling 

salaka 

to pursue 

salim 

unimpaired 

sit’ 

wicked 

SHIN 

shaja’a 

courage 

shadda 

to harden, 
make firm 

sharr 

evil 

short 

stipulation 

shanf 

venerable 

ishtirak al-ism 

homonymity 

sharah 

avidity 

sha'ara bi 

to be attentive 

shaqa 

misery 

shakl 

shape 

shahwa 

desire 

ishtaha li 

to yearn for 



Glossary 171 


(arabic-english) (arabic-english) 


ashara bi 

to advise 

tashawwaqa 

to long for 

shawq 

longing 

SAD 

sahih 

sound, 

healthy 

sadda ’an 

to hinder 

sina’a 

art 

sawab 

correct 

sura 

form 

DAD 

dabit li-nafsih 

self-restrained 

didd 

contrary 

darb 

type 

ta’ 

tab’, tabi'a 

nature 

tariq 

method 

talab 

seeking 

tami’a 

to become 
ambitious 

atafa bi 

to encompass 

ZA’ 

2 arf 

wittiness 

AYN 

isti’dad 

disposition 

’udda 

reserve 

’addla 

justice 

i'tadal 

to equilibrate, 
balance 

i’tidal 

equilibrium, 

balance 

’adam 

privation 

’adam al-ihsas 

insensibility 

bi-al-ladhdha 

to pleasure 

’drad 

accident (of 
the soul) 

'iffa 

moderation 

’aql 

intellect 


'ada 

custom 

’afa 

to feel disgust 

'iwad 

recompense 

'aiq 

impediment 

ista’ana bi 

to have 

recourse to 

GHAYN 

ghabata 

to admire 

gharad 

purpose 

ghasb 

usurpation 

ghadab 

anger 

ghamm 

distress 

ghamr 

simple person 

ghaya 

goal 

ghaira 

jealousy 

ghaiz 

fury 

fa’ 

fahwa 

tenor 

farraqa 

to differentiate 

fazi’a 

to frighten 

tafasud 

enmity 

fasl 

differentia 

fatara 

to endow 

fi ; i 

action 

bi-al-fi’l 

in actuality 

iftaqara ila 

to require 

fikr 

calculation 

fahm 

understand¬ 

ing 

tafawut 

disparity 

afada 

to provide 

istafada 

to procure 

faza bi 

to achieve 

QAF 

qabih 

base 

iqtabasa 

to secure 

muqabil 

opposite 

taqtir 

stinginess 

iqdam 

boldness 



172 Glossary 


(arabic-english) 


QAF (con 

t •) 

qaswa 

harshness 

qa$d 

intention 

iqtasara 

to be limited, 
limit oneself 

iqtana 

to acquire 

quwwa 

faculty, power 

bi-al-quwwa 

potentially 

qayyim bi-al-namus 

custodian of 
the law 

KAF 

kadd 

toil 

karaha 

loathing 

iktasaba 

to earn 

kais 

cleverness 

LAM 

iltamasa 

to search 

MlM 

majun 

impudence 

madda 

matter 

madTna 

city 

insan madam 

citizen 

mizdj 

temperament 

makr 

trickery 

malaka (pi. malakdt) 

state of char¬ 
acter 

mayyaza 

to distinguish 

NUN 

manhan 

aim 

nakhwa 

arrogance 


(arabic-english) 


manzal 


household 

manzila 


station 

ansha'a 


to originate 

naq$ 


defect 

nala 

ha’ 

to gain 

hadaf 


end 

harab 


fleeing 

inhadd 


to inspire 

himma 


endeavor 

tahawwur 


rashness 

istihana 


contempt 

hawan 


passion 

hai'a 


trait 

hayula 

W A W 

primordial 

matter 

awsa bi 


to counsel 

tawadu' 


respectfulness 

wazaba 'ala 


to persist in 

waffara 


to augment 

waqalia 


insolence 

qihha 


impertinence 

waqa'a'ala 


to apply to 

waqafa'ald 


to grasp 

tawalla 


to help 

wall 


helper 

awma'a ila 

ya’ 

to point out 

yasar 


wealth 

yasir 


slight, trifling 



ENGLISH-ARABIC 


(english-arabic) (english-arabic) 


absen tmindedness 

dhahl 

concord 

i’tilaf 

accident (of the soul) 

r arad 

contempt 

istihana 

to achieve 

faza bi 

to content 

rada 

to acquire 

iqtana 

contentedness 

ridan 

action 

fi'l 

contrary 

didd 

in actuality 

bi-al-fi'l 

correct 

sawab 

to admire 

ghabata 

to counsel 

awsa bi 

to advise 

ashara bi 

courage 

shajd’a 

affluence 

tharwa 

covetousness 

hirs 

aggregate 

majmu’ 

cowardice 

jubn 

aim 

manh an 

cunning 

daha 

to aim, direct toward 

saddada 

to create 

bara’a 


nahwa 

custodian of the law 

qayyim bi-al- 

to become ambitious 

tami’a 


namus 

anger 

ghadab 

custom 

’dda 

to annoy 

sakhita 



to apply to 

waqa'a 'ala 

deceitfulness 

khubth 

apprehensiveness 

jaza c 

defect 

naqs 

approach 

sabil 

deliberation 

rawiyya 

arrogance 

nakhwa 

delicateness of soul 

riqqat al-nafs 

art 

sina’a 

desire 

shahwa 

to attain, reach 

hasala 

to deserve 

ista’hala 

to be attentive 

sha'ara bi 

deviation 

inhraf 

audacity 

iqdam 

devoid of 

khilw min 

to augment 

waffara 

difference 

khildf 

avidity 

sharah 

differentia 

fast 

avoidance 

tajannub 

to differentiate 

farraqa 



disagreement 

ikhtilaf 

bad 

radi 

discernment, mind 

dhihn 

base 

qabih 

to feel disgust 

’afa 

boldness 

iqdam 

disparity 

tafawut 



disposition 

isti’dad 

calculation 

fikr 

to distinguish 

mayyaza 

state of character 

malaka (pi. 

distress 

ghamm 


malakat) 

dwelling 

maskan 

city 

madina 



citizen 

insan 

to earn 

iktasaba 


madam 

to encompass 

atfa bi 

cleverness 

kais 

end 

hadaf 

compassion 

rahma 

endeavor 

himma 



174 Glossary 


(ENGLISH-ARABIC) 


to endow 

fatara 

enmity 

taf~sud 

to equilibrate, balance 

i'tadal 

equilibrium, balance 

i’tidal 

evil 

sharr 

extinction 

zawal 

faculty, power 

quwwa 

potentially 

bi-al-quwwa 

fear 

khawf 

final 

akhlr 

fine 

hasan 

fleeing 

harab 

to follow 

tala 

form 

sura 

fraudulence 

khibb 

to frighten 

fazi’a 

fury 

ghaiz 

to gain 

nala 

to generate 

hadatha 

goal 

ghaya 

good 

khair 

governor 

mudabbir 

to grasp 

waqafa ’ala 

greed 

bukhl 

to harden, make firm 

shadda 

harshness 

qaswa 

hatred 

bighda 

haughtiness 

badhah 

to be heedful 

tahaffaza 

to help 

tawalla 

helper 

wall 

to hinder 

sadda ’an 

homonymity 

ishtirak al-ism 

household 

manzal 

imagination 

takhayyul 

imaginative evocation 

takhyil 

impediment 

’a’iq 

impertinence 

qihha 

impudence 

majun 


(english-arabic) 


to innovate 

bada’a 

insensibility to 

'adam al-ihsas 

pleasure 

bi-al-ladhdha 

insolence 

waqaha 

to inspire 

inhada 

intellect 

’aql 

intention 

qasd 

jealousy 

ghaira 

justice 

’adala 

to keep in mind 

bala bi 

last 

muta’akhkhir 

level 

manzila 

liberality 

sakha’ 

to be limited, 

iqtasara 

limit oneself 


loathing 

karaha 

to long for 

tashawwaqa 

longing 

shawq 

love 

mahabba 

luxury 

taraffuh 

majesty 

jalala 

to master 

haza 

matter 

madda 

primordial matter 

hayula 

misery 

shaqa’ 

method 

tarlq 

moderation 

’iffa 

modesty 

haya 

moral habit 

khulq 

nature 

tab’, tabfa 

noble 

jamil 

to nullify 

batala 

to obtain 

balagha 

opposite 

muqabil 

to originate 

ansha’a 

outrage 

jarira 



Glossary 175 


(arabic-english) (arabic-english) 


passion 

hawan 

sophistication 

hunka 

to persist in 

wazaba 'ala 

sound, healthy 

sahih 

to point out 

awma’a ila 

stinginess 

taqtir 

power, faculty 

quwwa 

stipulation 

short 

potentially 

bi-al-quwwa 

to strive 

sa'a 

preference 

ithar 

struggle 

jihad 

privation 

’adam 

stupidity 

humq 

to procure 

istafada 

to succeed 

tabi'a 

to provide 

afada 

synthesis, combination 

tarkib 

public 

jumhur 



purpose 

gharad 

temperament 

mizaj 

to pursue 

salaka 

tenor 

fahwa 



thatness 

anniyya (also 

quick-wittedness 

dhaka’ 


inniyya) 



toil 

kadd 

rank 

rutba 

trait 

hai’a 

ranking 

martaba 

trickery 

makr 

rashness 

tahawwur 

type 

darb 

reception 

jarbadha 



recompense 

'iwad 

understanding 

fahm 

to have recourse to ista'ana bi 

unimpaired 

salim 

to reflect 

ta’ammala 

usurpation 

ghasb 

to require 

iftaqara ila 



requital 

jaza 

venerable 

sharlf 

reserve 

r udda 

vice 

radhila 

respectfulness 

tawadu' 

vile 

khasis 

to be restricted 

inha$ara 

vision 

basar 

reward 

thawab 

volition 

irada 



wastefulness 

tabdhir 

to search 

iltamasa 

wealth 

yasar 

to secure 

iqtabasa 

wicked 

sit’ 

seeking 

talab 

wiliness 

mukhatala 

self-restrained 

dabit li-nafsih 

wisdom 

hikma 

shape 

shakl 

wittiness 

zarf 

simple person 

ghamr 



slackness 

rakhawa 

to yearn for 

ishtaha li 

slight, trifling 

yaslr 






Index 


Ackrill, J. L., 142 
al-'Ajam, Raflq, 154 

Alexander (the Great), 122,129,131-132, 
167 

Alfarabi, ix-xiii, 71-75, 77, 83, 87-93, 96-97, 
100,108,111,119-124,130-131 
Attainment of Happiness, x, 119 
Book of Religion (Kitab al-Milla ), xi, xii, 
87-89, 96,119 

Book of the Syllogism (Kitab al-Qiyds ), 
132, 139 

Commentary and Short Treatise on 
Aristotle's De Interpretatione, 
141-142 

Harmonization of the Two Opinions of the 
Two Sages, Plato the Divine and 
Aristotle, xi, xiii 
Large Book on Music, x 
Long Commentary on Aristotle’s De 
Interpretatione, 141 

Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, x, 120, 
130 

Political Regime (Kitab al-Siyasa al- 
Madaniyya), 111 
Alonso, Alonso Manuel, 117 
Amin, 'Uthman, 79, 81-82 
Ammonius, 137, 157 
Ancients, 7,22,29,103,106, 119,129 
Aouad, Maroun, 155 
Arberry, A. J., 133 

Aristotle, x-xii, 7,9,25, 55, 79,96,119-127, 
129-145,147-148,150-154,156-157, 
159-162,164-168 
Categories, 134,142, 145,147 


De Anima, 153, 164 
Metaphysics, 126,136,156, 160 
Nicomachean Ethics, 142,147-149 
On Interpretation, 141 
On the Heavens, 140,144,154-155, 

162 

Physics, 135,155-156 
Politics, 131 

Posterior Analytics, 136,139,150-153 
Prior Analytics, 132,136,138, 139-140 
Theology of Aristotle, 122,155-156,161, 
164 

Topics, 132,136,154 

art, 58-61, 80,99,100-101,103,105-108, 
126-7,132-134-135-138 
Averroes, 136,139-140 

Averroes: Tafsir Md Ba'd al-Tabi'a (Large 
Commentary on the 
Metaphysics), 136 

Badawi, ‘Abd al-Rahman, 133, 142, 

155-156 
Baghdad, xi 

belief, 76, 90,100,126-127,138,141-142, 
146,154 

Berman, Lawrence V., 87 
Bielawski, Jozef, 132 

Lettre d'Aristote a Alexandre sur la 
politique envers les cites, 132 
body politic, 8,11-13 
Bouyges, Maurice, 136 

Cairo, 87,117,139,142, 148,155 
citizen, 77-78,95, 98,120-121 


1 77 



178 Index 


city 

ignorant, 51, 103-104 
virtuous, 4, 8-9, 22-26, 37-44, 77, 79, 
103-104, 107-108, 111-113, 122 
cleverness, 34-37 

cognizance, 15,43,61-63, 101, 103-111,113 
Constantinople, ix 

craft, kingly, 27-28, 77-80, 91, 98,103-107, 
111 

creed, 90, 96 
cunning, 108 

Damascus, ix-x 
deeds, civic, 77 
Dieterici, Friedrich, 117 
division, method of, 136 
Dunlop, D. M., 3-4, 6,49,60, 64-66,96,106, 
109, 134 

Al-Farabt, Fusui al-Madani: Aphorisms 
of the Statesman, 134 

Endress, Gerhard, 155 
evil, 18, 47-48, 54 

Fakhry, Majid, 134 

Galston, Miriam, xiii, 118 

God, 40, 52, 56, 65-67, 80, 82, 94-97, 

111-113, 13 7/ 146, 158, 162, 167-168 
Goichon, A.-M., 135 

Lexique e la langue philosophique d'lbn 
Sina, 135 

Goulet, Richard, 131, 137 

Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, 131 
Grene, David, 130 

Man in His Pride: A study in the Political 
Philosophy of Thucydides and Plato, 
130 

Hanna, Sami A., 137 
happiness, 7, 35, 44-57,62,76-78,89,93, 
94-95, 101-103,106,113/120-121 
honor, 61-62, 87, 93,100, 105 
households, 22-26 
Hunayn, Ishaq Ibn, 142 

injustice, 41-44, 94,132, 141-142. See justice 
intellect, 29, 53, 81, 84, 95, 111,120-121,125, 
127,134,146,151-152,161,163-165 

jurisprudence, 73,80,89-101 

jurist, 80-81,100-101 

justice, 40-44, 49, 96,132, 141-142, 167 


king 

depraved, 95-96 
vicious, 112 
virtuous, 95-96 
kingship, 12, 27-28, 77, 80, 103 
knowledge, 29-31, 78, 87, 96-97, 100, 
120-121, 125-128, 131, 150-152, 157, 
163-164 

Kutsch, Wilhelm, 141 
law 

conventional, 46, 62, 82,119 
divine, 90 
Lippert, 148 

Mahdi, Muhsin S., x, xiii, 3-4, 71-72, 79, 81, 
87, 96, 101, 108, 130,134,137,146, 
156-157 

Mahe, Jean-Pierre, 137 
Mallet, Dominique, 117-118 
Marrow, Stanley, 141 
model, divine, 160 
Mubashshir, al- (Abu al-Wafa’ al- 
Mubashshir ibn al-Fatik), 133 
Murdoch, J. E., 108 

The Cultural Context of Medieval 
Learning, 108 
Muller, A., 148 

Nader, Albert, 117 

Najjar, Fauzi M., xiii, 3-6, 16-17, 21, 2 5 / 3 °/ 
38, 47-48, 51-61, 64-66, 72, 111, 
117-118 

Nasr, Abu (al-Farabl), 65-67 
nation, 79, 80, 88, 93,100, 103-104,106-107, 
112-113 

opinion, erroneous, 7,8,44-57 

Palencia, Angel Gonzalez, 71, 79 
Pajuh, Muhammad TaqI Danish, 139 
philosophy, political, 61-64,78,87-88 
Plato, x-xii, 7,10, 79, 96,117,119-127, 
129-131,133-153, 155-157/ 159-161, 
163-165, 167-168 
AblTtiya, 156, 160 
Meno, 150 
Phaedo, 150, 153 

Republic, 10,79,120,140-141,147,156, 
160,167 
Statesman, 134 

Timaeus, 134,138,143,155-156,163 
pleasure, 76, 80, 93,101,103,154,163 



Index 179 


Plezia, Marian, 132 
Porphyry, 148 
prophet, 90,121 

Muhammad the, 119 
prudence, 31-34, 37, 106-107 

Quran, 47,111, 157-158 

regime 

ignorant, 57-61, 103 
virtuous, 9, 57-64, 103 
religion, xi, 88-89, 91-93, 97 ~ 9 & 
revelation, 81 

Rosenthal, Franz, 130, 133-134 
ruler 

profligate, 95 

rulership, 77, 79-80, 88, 90, 93-94* 99 * 
103-104, 107-111 
virtuous (see king: virtuous) 
rules, universal, 77-78 

Saffrey, Henri Dominique, 137 
self restraint, 18-20 
science 

natural, 138 

political, xi, 72-76,88-92,101, 104, 
106-108 
shari'a, 96 

Socrates, 25, 120,122, 126, 130, 134, 141, 
147, 150-151 


soul, 11-22, 32, 36, 52-57, 62, 95, 110, 
120-122, 125,129-130,134, 147-153, 
163-165 
s unna, 96, 143 
Sylla, E. D., 108 

syllogisms, 123, 132, 138-139,154 
Themistius, 137 

theology, 89-90, 108, 132, 154-155 
dialectical, xi, 73-75, 80 
theologians, 81-83 
Timaeus, 134, 138, 143, 155-156, 163 
timocracy, 77 
tradition, Islamic, 87 

Usaybi'a, Ibn Abl, 148 

vice, 13-22 

virtue, 13-22, 32-38, 44-56, 91, 93-94, 

108 

intellectual, 28-37, 54-56, 79 
moral, 16-20 

Walker, Paul, 118 

Walzer, Richard, 130,134, 147 

wealth, 27-28 

wisdom, 28, 30-31, 35, 93-94, 128, 131, 133, 
M 7 

Zimmermann, F. W., 141